Volume 76, Number 46 | April 11 - 17, 2007

Whole Foods’ impact is felt by shoppers, and stores

By Brooke Edwards

The recent opening of Whole Foods Market on the Lower East Side is making life easier for many residents. But other neighborhood stores are already feeling the sting of competition.

“I’m thrilled this store has opened,” said Jane Lecce, shopping at Whole Foods last week. Lecce has lived across the street from where the store now stands — on E. Houston St. between Bowery and Chrystie St. — for almost three decades. With two teenage boys at home, she has already shopped in the store several times since its March 29 opening.

“It’s a pleasure to be able to just go across the street,” Lecce said.

For years, she used to walk a few blocks over to Met Food supermarket, at 251 Mulberry St. In spite of her excitement over the new store, Lecce admitted that abandoning her longtime market has made her feel “kind of guilty.”

Oumar Cisse, Met Foods’ manager, said, “The first two days they opened, we were affected. They always take about 10 percent of your business when they first open.”

But Cisse is not worried about the long-term effects on his business.

“We’re a regular supermarket. They’re not,” he said. “Not everyone wants to buy organic food.”

He said Met Foods will be offering some specials and will be increasing their selection of natural products. Mainly, though, he said, “We are just going to keep doing what we’re doing.”

One store that has been affected by the opening of the health-food mega-supermarket is a smaller chain store, Key Food supermarket, at 43 Columbia St.

Abdin Jaymal, who has owned the Key Food since 1986, says his business has already suffered in the two weeks Whole Foods has been open.

“We have a lot of competition right now,” Jaymal said. He said they plan to contend with the huge chain by having frequent sales, keeping up with their fresh produce and increasing the variety of items they keep in stock.

Nicelle Beauchene was wandering Whole Foods’ spacious aisles Monday morning with an empty green basket over her arm, looking at row upon row of immaculately stocked shelves. She said she has been in the store a couple of times since it opened, but just to browse. Since she had the day off, Beauchene said she at last felt she had time to tackle shopping at the 71,000-square-foot market.

“It is a little overwhelming,” she said with a laugh. Still, she said, she is very happy the store — which was in the works for three years — has finally opened.

Beauchene used to mainly shop at Fine Fare supermarket at 545 Grand St., but plans to be a regular Whole Foods shopper now.

“The produce is a lot better, and so is the selection,” she said. “It’s a little further to carry stuff, but it’s worth it, I think.”

In addition to the organic foods for which the chain is known, the store’s second floor includes the Whole Body products line, with soaps, lotions and vitamins, and the ECO line, with organic cotton clothing, sheets and shoes. The store also features a culinary center, which focuses on cooking for a healthy lifestyle and will feature guest appearances by top local chefs.

The E. Houston St. Whole Foods is the chain’s biggest, topping its locations in Chelsea, Columbus Circle and Union Square. Whole Foods will continue expanding in New York City. Its first Brooklyn store is scheduled to open in spring 2008. There are plans for a fifth Manhattan location, in Tribeca, on the corner of Greenwich and Warren Sts., though an opening date has not yet been announced.

The chain’s expansion is not welcome news to Audrey Harkins, who lives Downtown.

“Why didn’t they at least put in a Trader Joe’s?” she asked. “At least they have some decent prices.” Harkins plans to continue her shopping at local discount stores. However, her favorite — Ralph’s Discount City at 95 Chambers St. — recently put back up its going-out-of-business signs.

Harkins said, “Little by little, like affordable housing, it’s all caving in on us.”

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