About 2,000 ardent Whole Foods fans toured the high-end grocers new SouthPark-area store Sunday and Monday, in a preview event that sometimes had the air of a revival meeting.
The store at 6610 Fairview Road, which opens Wednesday morning, has been on many Charlotte residents short list of most-desired additions to the retail landscape for years. The original plan to build a store in the Elizabeth neighborhood in 2004 fell through, leaving Charlotte without a Whole Foods as the retailer built stores elsewhere in North Carolina.
Sunday and Monday, the wait was over for many. They couldnt actually shop, but dozens of people lined up for tours that kicked off about every 10 minutes. People paid $5 each for the tours, and the proceeds will be donated to a local charity.
I thought it was fabulous, said Barbara Goodloe, a retired Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools English teacher.
Were all very excited. You can have wines by the ounce, said her friend Pattie Owen, talking about the stores sampling options.
They wound their way through the store, sampling pulled pork, lavender hand lotion and aged parmesan reggiano, while store clerks extolled the values of artificial-ingredient-free food.
Are most of you familiar with organics? tour guide Jarrett Oliveri asked a group as they stopped in the produce department.
Heads bobbed in unison while Whole Foods workers told them about the dangers of pesticides, but explained that sometimes nonorganic produce would be sold out of necessity.
Workers hustled around them, snapping shelves into place, hammering, sawing and moving furnishings. They filled standing freezers with box after box of chicken nuggets, piled cantaloupes into place, and hauled huge cheese wheels. Two bearded men with porkpie hats carefully arranged pyramids of peaches by the door.
Whole Foods is entering an already crowded Charlotte grocery market. Itll be going toe to toe with nearby EarthFare and a recently remodeled Harris Teeter in the Morrocroft shopping center.
Data from Chain Store Guide, which collects information on store sales, showed Wal-Mart was the regions leading food retailer in 2011, with 21.5 percent of the market. Harris Teeter was No. 2, with 21.1 percent, followed by Food Lion, with 17.7 percent.
Organic specialist EarthFare came in at No. 18, with 0.6 percent, while specialty food store Trader Joes came in at No. 11, with 1.5 percent.
A bar for every taste
The new Whole Foods has plenty of amenities intended to draw high-end shoppers. In addition to the all-natural food, dining area and cooking classes, there is a gelato bar, a smoothie bar, a coffee bar, a sushi bar, a sandwich bar, a salad bar and a real bar, with four local breweries on tap.
The store also has many touches designed to emphasize Whole Foods reputation as an environmentally friendly shopping option, down to the trash-can liners: fully compostable plastic.
Mecklenburg building permits show the cost of the new, 42,000-square-foot store was more than $12 million. The store will employ more than 230 people, Whole Foods said.
The grocer recently announced plans to triple its store count, to about 1,000 stores, over the coming years. Some of those new locations will be in areas currently underserved by other grocery chains, Whole Foods said, and the new stores could vary widely in size.
Matthews resident Sarah Schwenk said although she and her husband are looking forward to shopping at the store, it probably will be out of reach for some customers.
This is going to be high-end, she said. The everyday person is not going to come here.
Still, Schwenk said shes amazed by the changes shes seen in peoples attitudes toward nutrition.
I actually graduated in 1964 from college with a degree in dietetics, she said. That was considered the most boring major. On dates, you wouldnt want people to know you were studying dietetics. Now, to see people want to know all this nutritional information amazes me.