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Shoppers rush Gowanus Canal-side grocer, but say they will not give up Fairway Market altogether

Whole-hearted embrace at Whole Foods’ first day — almost

Brooklyn Daily
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Whole Foods is bringing a whole lot of competition to Brooklyn grocers.

The long-awaited Gowanus Whole Foods Market, Brooklyn’s first, opened its doors at eight this morning, letting in a crush of hungry kale seekers, some of whom said they will be trading trips to their old standby stores for the one-stop-organic-shopping experience of the spanking new chain outlet alongside the fetid Gowanus Canal.

“I’ve been hoping for Whole Foods since we moved here three years ago,” said Windsor Terrace resident Deb Lynch, who is planning to spend less time at Fairway Market in Red Hook now that the green machine is open. “I think I’ll still go to Fairway, but maybe there will be a few things less that I buy there that I’ll buy here now.”

Some 300 shoppers gathered outside the gleaming edifice on Third Avenue at Third Street for a first look. Out front, ample bike parking is overtaken by Christmas tree sellers. Inside, the rooftop greenhouse was still off-limits, but first-wave shoppers got to browse records and jewelry along with their heirloom tomatoes.

The prices that earned the retailer the nickname “Whole Pocketbook” were in full effect, but the huge selection, including 100 special-to-the-store products by local brands such as Brooklyn Cupcake, is too tantalizing to ignore, said attendees who worry that other outlets will suffer — but only to a point.

“I’m concerned about Fairway, but I think the price point levels it out for people,” said Bedford-Stuyvesant resident Chana Wells, who travels to Long Island to shop at Fairway Market and Trader Joe’s and said she will work Whole Foods into the mix.

Whole Foods spokesman Michael Sinatra said the company, which has seven locations in Manhattan, is used to battling competition from neighborhood mom-and-pops and other chains, but added that he does not yet know how the new food store will affect Brooklyn’s supermarket landscape.

The chain’s 2005 announcement that it would build its first Brooklyn outpost in Gowanus was met with protest from some local residents who argued that the store would kill small stores and cause nightmarish traffic. But after Whole Foods helped clean up the canal-side site, downsized its original building plan, and assured the city and that it would not further pollute the canal, construction kicked off in July 2012.

The store’s assurances remain to be proven, said one local leader.

“We can only hope that this business serves as the catalyst for future investment in the area and provides essential goods and jobs for the community,” said Community Board 6 District Manager Craig Hammerman. “[It is] a question of how it can blend into the surrounding environment and support industrial businesses.”

One of the biggest surprises the natural food monger had in store was not actually in the store — Whole Foods is offering borough-wide delivery.

But party-crashers hoping to gorge themselves on free samples were likely disappointed by the sole table of watermelon slices and other hors d’oeuvres.

Reach reporter Megan Riesz at mriesz@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her on Twitter @meganriesz.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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