The coolest amusement ride in Charlotte right now isn’t at Carowinds. It’s in the new Whole Foods at Fairview and Sharon roads.
If you park under the building and you need to take your loaded shopping cart back to your car, you push the cart onto a moving ramp, a little nervous and expecting the cart to roll downhill. Instead, the metal grid clamps onto the wheels and holds them firmly in place while you glide down.
It’s a good way to restart your heart after you see your total at the checkout. (I spent how much for a single bag of groceries?)
Ah, well. No one around me was quibbling. Even at 3 p.m. on a Monday, the new Whole Foods was buzzing and bustling. There were people at the wine bar, the coffee bar, the salt bar.
Yes, the store has a salt bar, where you can buy six kinds of exotic salts. It has a trail mix bar, for heaven’s sake.
One older woman was pushing her cart through the prepared food section, lined with multiple hot bars, and muttering, “I can’t believe it.”
You know, ma’am, neither can I. Because the journey to a Charlotte Whole Foods was as long and strange as that ramp for your shopping cart.
I was a young and giddy reporter lass when I wrote the first story announcing that Charlotte was getting a Whole Foods. It was July 30, 2004, and I assured readers it would open on Elizabeth Avenue in the winter of 2006/2007.
It was big news. With its emphasis on organic and high-conscience foods, gourmet offerings and that slight air of self-righteous consumption, Whole Foods is a marker of a certain kind of lifestyle. Other cities had Whole Foods – New York, L.A., Chicago. Heck, even Chapel Hill had a Whole Foods.
With that one announcement, Charlotte had proof it was stepping into a higher retail arena.
But then, Whole Foods didn’t come. The original plan on Elizabeth Avenue got put on hold. A new location was eventually announced in SouthPark. And that empty lot just sat there.
In the meantime, lots of other things arrived. Asheville-based Earth Fare opened in Ballantyne in 2005 and opened a second store in SouthPark several years later. Trader Joe’s opened the first of three stores in August 2007. IKEA filled our dining tables with cheap glassware and our freezers with Swedish meatballs in 2009.
Whole Foods? Nothing.
When the store finally opened last month, I missed it. Too busy chasing stories for the Democratic National Convention. (Really, Whole Foods – you waited eight years and you couldn’t time it better than that?)
On Monday, I was finally able to pull out a cart and stroll through the store. I bought the Kate’s Homemade Butter that people are talking about, and picked up a bar of Olive & Sinclair chocolate. I looked over the cheeses, and tried not to look at the prices on the dry-aged beef case.
I bought a shopping bag and filled it with a few things for dinner, and I rode that goofy escalator downstairs.
Someone asked me recently about yet another rumor that New York-based grocery chain Wegman’s is coming. I just shrugged.
I saw Whole Foods actually open in Charlotte. I can believe anything.