‘Whole’ food fight! Dissent sprouts against grocery’s Gowanus plans

The Brooklyn Paper
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A coalition of manufacturers and artists launched an eleventh hour attack against a plan to open a massive Whole Foods in Gowanus, claiming the purveyors of all things organic would destroy a blossoming industrial neighborhood that’s fast becoming a hub for creativity.

Dozens of artsy types and factory owners urged an obscure-but-powerful city planning board to reject the upscale market’s bid for a White House-sized shop on Third Avenue and Third Street on Tuesday, saying the space is better suited for the manufacturing and creative industry.

“New York City has enough high-end retail,” said Cassandra Weston, who works at the Old American Can Factory, a shared art studio space. “This unique industrial neighborhood needs to be protected.”

The mammoth market needs special permission from the city to open a 58,000 square-foot shop in a space currently slated for just 10,000 square feet of commercial space.

But one month before Whole Foods faces its final logistical hurdle at the city’s Board of Standards and Appeals, Gowanus locals went on the offensive, claiming the fancy retailer would flood the neighborhood with traffic and set off a development trend that could squash the community’s unique mix of businesses and spark a surge in real estate costs.

“Part of what makes [Gowanus] special is its economic diversity,” said Adam Kendall, a videographer from Park Slope who works in the neighborhood. “Small businesses and artists depend on it.”

Neighborhood researchers with the Gowanus Institute tout data indicating that spaces used for manufacturing attract three times more jobs than spaces used for retail.

“These manufacturing jobs help families stay above the poverty line,” said Anita Durst, who works for an art-positive non-profit.

But Whole Foods insists it takes care of its employees.

The company, which brags about ranking among Fortune magazine’s “100 Best Companies to Work For” for the past 14 years, expects to bring between 300 and 350 jobs to the neighborhood, with as many as 262 of them being full-time.

And some of those opportunities will go to artists, according to grocery store spokesman Michael Sinatra.

“The art community is near and dear to us — we employ in-house artists to do signage on our chalkboards,” said Sinatra. “We often use cafe spaces to showcase art.”

Coming to Brooklyn has been a long and troublesome journey for the grocery giant, which hopes to open its first outpost in the borough early next year.

The supermarket has had numerous setbacks including a lengthy delay spent cleaning its toxic lot alongside the fetid Gowanus Canal. Facing criticism from neighbors about its scale and impact on traffic, the store cut back its proposed size by 10,000 square feet and reduced its planned parking lot to accommodate 250 cars instead of 420. It also announced new plans for a rooftop greenhouse that ought to please locavores.

Approval for the supermarket now hangs on a rubber stamp from the Board of Standards and Appeals, which will vote on grocer’s request for a variance on Feb. 28.

Out of more than a dozen speakers, only one Gowanus resident spoke in favor of the grocery store during a public hearing in front of the board, claiming Whole Foods has a solid business model that will mesh well with the neighborhood.

“The community will embrace this shop,” said Paul Basile of The Gowanus Alliance. “This neighborhood has a little bit of everything.”

Reach reporter Natalie O'Neill at or by calling her at (718) 260-4505.
Updated 5:29 pm, July 9, 2018
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Reasonable discourse

Or from Yellow Hook says:
The same "artists" who opposed IKEA in Red Hook?

Who now pedal down there for their Billy Bookshelves?

And watch the good hearted folks from public housing who can walk to work, cash their paychecks that say IKEA on them?

Time to trot out the "Pollloooootion" and "Congestion" words for the pristine land of the Gowanus.

"New York has enough high end retail" chirps an expert on the economy, an "artist"!
Jan. 25, 2012, 8:09 am
Ru from Park Slope says:
The biggest problem isn't that it's a chain store. That complaint rings hollow.

The problem is that they are putting in WAY too much parking. It's a suburban-style building in an industrial and urban area. The surrounding neighborhoods can not cope with the traffic that this store will generate.

Eliminate most of the parking and people will still come to this store. The Whole Foods in Manhattan, such as the one at Union Square, don't have giant parking lots next to them and they are packed all the time.

This Whole Foods should be designed with half of the parking that's in the current plan.
Jan. 25, 2012, 8:28 am
Or from Yellow Hook says:
"The problem is that they are putting in WAY too much parking. It's a suburban-style building in an industrial and urban area. The surrounding neighborhoods can not cope with the traffic that this store will generate."

Same argument used at IKEA - try again.
Jan. 25, 2012, 8:46 am
Jet Jones from Park Slope says:
The Union Square store is also located at one of the most train accessible areas in the entire city. The Gowanus store isn't nearly as accessible by subway. Maybe Whole foods can run shuttle buses like ikea?
Jan. 25, 2012, 8:46 am
manhatposeur from Portlyn Lakes Park says:
Ok i am a local suburban transplant and I have car and Brooklyn is car friendly compared to the rst of the city wit hthe exception of Queens. And to top that off I still get around on a bike.
But Wholefoods will brign jobs and commerce.
But the same time I am sympathetic to the probable potential for skyrocketing real estate prices. heck you already have Fairway, Ikea, Lowes, and Homedepot within close proximity so I see a falacy in the traffic congestion arguement.
Jan. 25, 2012, 8:53 am
Mike says:
And at Ikea the argument was correct: the parking lot is NEVER full but is a permanent blight. It could be half the size, freeing up space for other stores, more park, or whatever!
Jan. 25, 2012, 9:46 am
Sarah from Park Slope says:
Industries there are against this? Really? Because as far as I can see Whole Foods spent the last 3 years cleaning up the toxic soils and such that you have created.
Artists, cool it. I am sure we will see you swinging by to grab your lunch or groceries there when it's all said and done. People like to be heard, get it out and then we can move on with this.
Jan. 25, 2012, 9:46 am
judahSpechal from BedStuy says:
from Yellow Hook comment..

"And watch the good hearted folks from public housing who can walk to work, cash their paychecks that say IKEA on them?"

It never fails, in any protest in NYC, one can count on "poor people", "working poor", "minorities", "folks from the projects" are inserted as "props" to justify ones position.

Not just from this commenter but also from politicans, media, do goodters, bleeding hearts etc, etc,

Perfect example of "pimping poverty, & eco-inequalities

Do these folks know they hold such power?

How can they turn this power, that the imagery of their plight possess into better opportunity & jobs that aren't of the security guards, minimum wage variety?
Jan. 25, 2012, 10:16 am
Or from Yellow Hook says:
"How can they turn this power, that the imagery of their plight possess into better opportunity & jobs that aren't of the security guards, minimum wage variety?"

If you start at minimum wage, you can go up from there. Where do managers come from? Promotion of the experienced who learn their trade and skill.

Simple huh?

Worked with the apprentice system.
Jan. 25, 2012, 10:35 am
Jbob from Park Slope says:
Never ceases to surprise how no-nothing liberals will try to block progress only to be the first to embrace it when it comes despite their regressive tidings.

Why do artists always think they have some right to huge space to work at low rent.

Whole Foods will be developing a significant and blighted piece of property. They should be given as much support as possible because if theyre pushed out I promise you the next thing to move in will be a Wall Mart or similar box store that gives two shts about the local community and pushes its wway through.
Jan. 25, 2012, 10:43 am
judahspechal from bedstuy says:
tell us more Yellow Hook.

That's great, that what all the unemployed needs minimum wage and working their way up. Horray for upward mobility.

I guess that's why "Unions are evil". They always want more than minimum wages. With any luck they might someday make outpace the salary of a Chinese factory worker.

Will you also be advising any of the campaigns for POTUS?

Have to agree the parking spot at IKEA is grossly under used. Fairway lot isn't that big.
Jan. 25, 2012, 11:31 am
Scott from Park Slope says:
The artist community in Gowanus is vibrant and wonderful. Most people in the city have no idea that we have such a massive artist colony in our very midst. Truly, check it out sometime during A.G.A.S.T. (Annual Gowanus Area Studio Tour) in October--the quality of the work is as good or better than anything you'd see in MoMA or the Guggenheim.

As such, the city ought to do something to support the strength of the community and ensure its continuity while the neighborhood inevitably develops. But blocking Whole Foods, which I'm sure many of those same artists would like to shop at, makes no sense when the real driver of development in the area is Atlantic Yards, something which cannot now be stopped and whose impact on this entire swath of Brooklyn cannot be overstated.

Besides, Whole Foods spent years cleaning up a toxic waste dump nobody else would touch and the Gowanus naysayers ought to laud them for that.
Jan. 25, 2012, 11:51 am
Citizen-Cain from NY State says:
If you actually followed the Whole Foods Brownfield cleanup you might not make the wild statement like that from Scott. Whole Foods went in and dug up some old septic tanks and old storage tanks then covered the land with a few feet of gravel "capping" fill--all work that necessary to build on the site. And for doing this they get the tax payers of NYS to pay for a quarter of the whole development costs in tax breaks. The community in on to pay for all the new infrastructure work with no anticipated tax revenue for a very long time.

And if build, taxpayers will once again be on for the cost of flood bailouts because of the coastal location.

Small businesses and artists are a much better bet for tax revenue and far less demanding in construction costs.
Jan. 25, 2012, 12:21 pm
Bay Ridger from Bay Ridge says:
Don't artists eat? Let the Whole Foods come!
Jan. 25, 2012, 12:24 pm
Or from Yello Hook says:
"Small businesses and artists are a much better bet for tax revenue and far less demanding in construction costs."

Wait! Isn't this area a "FOOD DESERT" that Mayor of Life Mike hates?
Jan. 25, 2012, 12:26 pm
Ls from Red hook says:
No. The area is not a food desert.

If Whole Foods was really interested in building a suburban style regional store for Brooklyn, they would have been better off picking a site on, say, 4th Ave. The flow of traffic suggested by the EAS traffic study would hinder the emergency evacuation route for the area. This is a potential issue not for the sensitiity of the site when dredging the toxic canal begins, but also in the case of things like flooding which tends to happen in the Gowanus, Red Hook, and possibly even Yellow Hook.

But it will probably never ever flood, and there probably will never ever be some major emergency that would require the use of such an emergency route.
Jan. 25, 2012, 12:59 pm
Gowanus Alliance from Gowanus says:
We need more retention tanks in Gowanus ... Not think tanks, we think just fine!
Jan. 25, 2012, 1:33 pm
Charles from Bklyn says:
I love how conservatives immediately attack people fighting for their neighborhood, jobs and rights, decrying the liberal perspective as ignorant and unwise. The truth is liberals make this nation great, and no amount of anger or frustration from the right will change this ... deal with it, get use to it; start loving it.

As for Whole Foods ... of course this will be detrimental to this Brooklyn neighborhood. Companies like this only build after someone else has worked to make an area attractive. Lets see Whole Foods open a store in a blighted area and create some jobs before the city decides to give them the wealth others have created.

Wake up!!! The city has been selling out the middle and lower classes for years. (Atlantic Yard, anyone?).
Jan. 25, 2012, 2:46 pm
teegee from sunset park says:
a delicate balance - oh give me a is a mess, a mish-mosh of chance occurences. it is NOT a community. its location on the pecking order for protection should be way below those of a residential community, or an artists community and just a little above a junk yard or landfill. whole food will be excellent for the surrounding areas and the delicate balance (translated - "cheaper rents, no one noticing how i am breaking various regulations") will adjust easily with no loss to the general neighborhood - only improvement - i am a lifelong resident, not a transplant, a community activist and a award winning green zoning recipient...
Jan. 25, 2012, 3:05 pm
Or from Yellow Hook says:
"If Whole Foods was really interested in building a suburban style regional store for Brooklyn, they would have been better off picking a site on, say, 4th Ave. "

You wouldn't like that either.

Too many parking spaces at Ikea? They are planning ahead. (Wahhhhh - Atlantic Yards doesn't have enough parking spaces!!!)

The worst traffic conjestion at WF will be the people standing in the aisles reading the labels.
Jan. 25, 2012, 4:36 pm
Ls from Red hook says:
I wouldn't have suggested it if it did not mean it, Yellow Hook. It's a pretty solid alternative when you consider the rezoning that occurred there, along with existing traffic routes and closer proximity to Park Slope.
Jan. 25, 2012, 5:49 pm
Or from Yellow Hook says:
Ls, you have the property to swap with them?
Jan. 25, 2012, 6:09 pm
popolo from gowanus says:
I would like to know how many of these artists are living illegally in these commercial units at the old can factory!!!
perhaps someone should find out how many are really producing anything other than a fire trap or dangerous illegal conversion. He who is without sin shall cast the first stone....otherwise shut up and paint something and don't forget to buy something from your new neighbor WHOLE FOODS. DEPT. OF BUILDINGS THE OLD CAN FACTORY...
Jan. 25, 2012, 7:58 pm
Pat I. from Brooklyn Born & raised says:
Isn't it time that we admit that art and artists do little for a community except raise rents and attract irresponsible
parentally funded douche nozzles who whine about not being able to find employment in the Valhalla of hipster employment : Social Media?

"FACTORY" emplies you make something useful or at least on some mass produced level. Why don't the elf-abosrbed fedora mannequins actually used their 200K puppetry degrees and open a machine shop or furntiure factory that makes reasonably priced furniture that someone other than some PBR marinated Canklesaurus would want?

For crissakes, wake up, folks. do something. enough with the artist BS crap - no one cares except the people you hang with...and the attention whore at the ssuatinable coffee shop who plays with legos all day.
Jan. 25, 2012, 8:35 pm
frank from furter says:
You know this has been going on for over 10 years. The site was vacant before that. Its nice now that the plans have been around for all that time that some people awake and say we didn't know. I am no fan of Whole Foods...unlike Trader Joes its expensive for what they carry, but they are the only ones who have been willing to put their money where their mouths are and do something. These original plans go back 10 years. Then whole foods tried to get a developer to come take over but that was a pipe dream. Now the economy may be turning and Whole Foods is willing to go forward. the parking is less than originally planned...let them build it already
Jan. 25, 2012, 8:35 pm
Pat I from brooklyn says:
Charles - would you have opened any major business in W-Burg in the mid 70's?

As much as I despise Whole Foods, they are a good indicator - like all chain stores - that your neighborhood has arrived ..because they're willing to invest millions of dollars in your neighborhood.

With regard to the poor and working class - exactly who displaced the natives of Willamsburg, DUMBO, Bed-stuy, Green Point, LES,NoLita, SoHo, Greenwich Village, Etc?

What about Jersey City? Northern Liberties (Philadelphia)? anyone? Anyone?
Jan. 25, 2012, 8:52 pm
Fatimah from Cobble Hill says:
What do you want? Art or jobs? Art or a grocery store? Selling wholesome food. The days of artsy Brooklyn are over. However, I hear there is space in Philly.
Jan. 26, 2012, 5:54 am
Fatimah from Cobble Hill says:
Right on Pat I!
Jan. 26, 2012, 5:55 am
rich from boreum hill says:
i can not believe how whiney some people are.Whole Foods in desperately needed,and wanted in Brooklyn ! It will bring good jobs,and be an excellant neighbor.W/o a great transit connection nearby,parking is important.There is plenty of space there.I will drive my self in order to schleep a load of groceries home.Whole Foods is trying VERY hard to be a good neighbor.They are cleaning up the toxic mess there for Christ sakes ! As to protecting artists,they will be the firsat over everyday for coffee and lunch.Many will probably even get side-jobs.QUIT embaress your selves.
Jan. 26, 2012, 8:19 am
scott from park slope says:
They must have started dredging the Gowanus canal already, judging from the comments from Pat and Fatimah. Neighborhoods change. Cities evolve. And there's no reason why Whole Foods and artists and other residents can't coexist. Yes some rents will go up but if you already live there the chances are you are rent-controlled/stabilized anyway. But arguing about whether WF will cause those things to happen is pointless because Atlantic Yards WILL do that anyway, and that cannot be stopped. If that thought fills you with horror, perhaps it's time to move to east new york where they have plenty vacant lots and derelict buildings to remind you of the "old country" of pre-WF Gowanus.
Jan. 26, 2012, 8:24 am
Steve from Brooklyn by birth says:
I can't imagine caring what easel monkeys think about anything.
Jan. 26, 2012, 9:15 am
Scott from Park Slope says:
The artists around the Gowanus area are truly gifted. In the future historians will write tomes about the creative foment occuring in the Gowanus now. And the city ought to look at ways to nurture the community so they can remain and thrive. But throwing rocks at Whole Foods or disparaging names at the artists makes no sense for anyone. A) Atlantic Yards is going to drive gentrification in the area anyway, so the presence of Whole Foods is moot. B) Whole Foods will bring more people into the Gowanus to shop and look around, which will mean more exposure for businesses in that area. C) Again, more people coming into the area from the outside will mean more foot traffic into the many galleries in the area, which again means more money for the artists. D) The more money that comes into the area means more work for residents and more services and more political clout with the city and state, as well as greater safety as police patrol more. Everyone wins all around. Unless you're a misanthrope, in which case you'll want to relocate to a different blighted post-industrial area.
Jan. 26, 2012, 10:41 am
Or from Yellow Hook says:
"The artists around the Gowanus area are truly gifted"

Who else could dumpster dive and nail old junk together an call it art?
Jan. 26, 2012, 12:58 pm
scott from park slope says:
Nobody I've seen does that. Painters, sculptors, photographers, and many other media, but no real installations like what MoMA puts on exhibit. Or, what you're talking about is an invention meant to smear people who express their creativity instead of making the effort to investigate what they really do. It would be excellent if you did the same instead of twisting your own frustrated creativity into hatred directed at those brave or crazy enough to express themselves.
Jan. 26, 2012, 2:38 pm
Mike from Bay Ridge says:
These aren't artists; they're Luddites. They believe in progress when it comes to receiving benefits, social services and entitlements but not when it comes to urban renewal or a neighborhood becoming a better place to live, work and shop.

They want to keep their apartments and lofts as cheap as possible, at least until they make a name for themselves so they can move out and buy a million dollar co-op in SoHo or the Village. But since that happens less often than a waiter becoming a movie star and buying a mansion in Beverly Hills, we're all supposed to suffer with these struggling artists!

No thanks. Build and keep building!
Jan. 26, 2012, 2:48 pm
Billy from gowanus says:
It's alright that whole foods is cleaning up the mess from the others that was left behind, including the people. But Give the hood jobs ! That's a no no? Give me a break And Stop Whinning. I pass there everyday and don't see any factories opening. It's DEAD over there..................
Jan. 26, 2012, 3:41 pm
Icarus from Greenwich Village says:
Bklyn Born & Raised, you KILLED it! Hahaaha! Well, I wish all Whole Foods would go away, but did you read the Gawker links on Whole Foods? Importing black market Chinese vegetables and labeling them local sourced organic free trade or whatever lame PC term is selling this week? Too funny. The best image, described by an ex-employee, is that of WF workers at the end of the day merging the trash and recyclables and throwing it all in the garbage bins. Classic.
Jan. 26, 2012, 5:59 pm
Bloomburg's IBZ from IBZone says:
The biggest employer in this country is retail (Wallmart).
Our economy is not lacking for more big-box retail spaces with their retail jobs. It is wrong for Whole Foods to drastically alter this manufacturing neighborhood into a suburban retail strip.
This area has been set aside by Mayor Bloomberg as a special Industrial Business District and must remain as such.

There simply is no way the BSA could buy a claim that granting a large retail use within this district would not significantly "Alter the Character" of this Industrial Business Zone.
Jan. 27, 2012, 12:49 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
@IBZ: Why are Whole Foods, artists, light industrial, and residential mutually exclusive?
Jan. 27, 2012, 2:51 pm
Bloomburg's IBZ from IBZone says:
There is major scrap metal recycling going on 100 feet from the Whole Foods site.

Would be wonderful to see than kind of industrial activity going along side all the Whole Foods and Walmarts of this country.

Lets do it--what a way to get the next wave of industry off the ground all across the country!
Jan. 27, 2012, 6:35 pm
Gowanee from Gowanus says:
Read John Shapiro's eloquent, educated testimony on
to become educated about what the issues really are here. Most of the comments I have glanced over are really sadly ignorant. This is a HUGE land-use issue with far reaching implications and ramifications. Not just some shallow artists are whining crap I see in some of these comments.
Jan. 28, 2012, 5:58 am
Scott from Park Slope says:
@Gowanee: OK, the argument on blogspot doesn't hold water. Claiming that a "box store" will create a precedent that will "bring down the neighborhood" is a joke. The site and that entire surrounding area is a brownfield. A neighborhood's quality can't go any lower than that unless it's a bubbling tar pit or an active caldera.

The WF site does have a 12' drop and needs to be levelled. They do need to build a retaining wall along the canal. There are significant earth-moving tasks to be performed, and that kind of work is expensive. A pleasant mix of small businesses is not going to fund it. It's spent decades already as a wasteland, and none of the small businesses or artists in the area have done anything to develop the site despite nearby buildings being converted to condos.

Opposing Whole Foods here amounts to nothing more than small-minded NIMBYism of the worst "nothing should ever, ever change" kind. Having an organic market in the area will prove a boon to the people living in the condos and homes nearby. It will bring more business to the area for all the small businesses and galleries. If Whole Foods does build in some green space the way IKEA did in Red Hook it will even bump up the quality of life there quite a bit, because there is nothing around there right now.

It also seems that having a relatively responsible operator with deep pockets like Whole Foods in the neighborhood will make it a lot easier to drive de-toxification of the canal, politically speaking. They would be a staunch ally in convincing the city and state to make the area better for everyone.
Jan. 28, 2012, 12:06 pm
bigredsoda from The Canal Zone says:
...and besides, WF has a kick-ass salad bar!
Jan. 28, 2012, 10:01 pm
Gowanus IBZone from IBZone says:
It is totally possible to come up with a design for that site where such grading is not necessary. This "expense" is self inflected.

What is so bogus about Whole Foods BSA claim is that their first contrived design scheme was to overbuild their zoning allotment by using the loop-hole that doesn't count cellar space. (This is no different zoning violations of attic and messannine --see Wikipedia on notorious architect R Scarano .)

Whole Foods claims this scheme as "as-of-right". There is no indication that the Department of Buildings ever accepted the zoning in that scheme.

Through BSA, Whole Foods is trying to side step their legal obligations to the community. Their proposed project can't be built as-of-right so they have created a false scenario based on false assumptions.

Since the proposed project doesn't comply with the site zoning in any as-of-right capacity; there should be a formal re-zoning taking place. That would entitle the community to an environmental review which would address the significant changes the proposal imposes.
Jan. 30, 2012, 12:11 pm
Gowanus Resident from Gowanus says:
Lets say WF wont be allowed at 3rd and 3rd corner. Whats gonna happen then? Empty unused lot for another couple of decades? I think WF is the best fit for that area. These people who oppose WF are probably funded to do this. Unfortunately for them, i dont see any valid claims and i hope they leave it alone and we get a great store in our neighborhood.
Jan. 30, 2012, 2:46 pm
Scott from Park Slope says:
Gowanus IBZone:
Really? If you don't grade a site, rain water rushes down the slope to the lowest point. That will wash out any material, unless it be granite anchored to bedrock. To claim otherwise is to flaunt the laws of physics, hydrology, geology, and several other disciplines.

Also, claiming that (I guess) that WF is "overbuilding their zoning allotment" with cellar space is patently absurd when the water table is so high there. The Gowanus area is effectively a marsh, and objecting that an entity will exceed their allotment by doing something that is a physical impossibility is, well, silly. How can you keep a straight face when you claim that someone is going to build a cellar that will be instantly filled with seep from the high water table?

WF is bravely taking on a site I personally would never. It's polluted. It's not level. It's in a marsh. It's in the middle of a neighborhood filled with people who (apparently) possess knowledge of neither geography nor architecture nor good sense. They want to bring you good, organic food. They want to be a good, progressive, environmentally minded neighbor, an ally against regressive development and policy. But you want to shut them down only because you don't understand and fear change, even when it would be in your own best interest.

Really and truly, look inside your own heart and ask yourself if you're that opposed to WF when the developing entity could have been Halliburton, or Diebold, or any number of other companies who destroy all in their wake.

Whole Foods is the best possible developer for a site that has been toxic for decades. Instead of hating them, support & welcome them.
Feb. 7, 2012, 10:50 am

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