Wednesday, June 5, 2013

[EID Preview] Whole Foods Detroit

All photos by Nicole Rupersburg.

Today is the day! It's the moment we've been talking about for two years now. The moment every local media outlet and even some of the national ones has been anxiously anticipating, hailing it as a bold move for the national organic grocer chain and a sure sign of Detroit's impending recovery. It has been cheekily referred to as "the most important grocery store in America," and has proven itself to be as divisive as it is significant, drawing in equal parts to the palpable excitement sneers from the "Whole Paycheck" contingency (as well as some crying over tax incentives and hand-wringing for independent grocers which it will obviously put out of business immediately when it opens its doors as 9 a.m. today because Detroit can only handle one grocery store). It has also (whether directly or not) ushered in a new era of national, and even local, grocer chains taking a chance on Detroit, an example of what proponents will argue is just the start of national retailers, long reluctant to even step foot in the city, now taking a second look -- the perception being, "Well, if Whole Foods can do it..."

This is not the first store Whole Foods has opened in a "high-risk" urban environment. In recent years the company has taken to opening stores in less affluent urban centers in the early stages of development. For the corporation, it's not about making money (in fact, and this should be happy news to you "Whole Paycheck" types, prices at this Whole Foods location will more accurately reflect the Detroit community ... meaning things will be cheaper here than in its West Bloomfield and Ann Arbor counterparts). As both a marketing tool for the company in an effort to rebrand its inaccessible image, as well as an active effort to help build struggling communities (which the company actually does care about), these urban Whole Foods are markedly different than their suburban sister stores, and have demonstrably acted as a sort of harbinger of development (ah yes, this is where the gentrification accusers will start in) -- which, it can certainly be argued, Detroit (and Midtown especially) was already getting there anyway, but the city still has a long way to go in terms of perception, and sometimes just the presence of a Whole Foods is enough. In this new Detroit store they have taken great pains to reflect the Detroit community as much as possible, from the most painstaking design details to the products they carry and the staff they hired.

"Say nice things about Detroit" mural by Detroit artists in the entryway.

I had the chance to stop by for another walk-through yesterday, less than 24 hours before they open. The store was all organized chaos as 100 employees and dozens of people from corporate put the finishing touches on what could, in fact, actually be one of the most important grocery stores in America. Haters gonna hate, but like it or not, this is more than just a grocery store. It is a symbol of something much bigger.

To celebrate their grand opening (and boy is it grand), Whole Foods has entertainment planned all day which includes African drumming, a DSO string quartet, and Ballet Folklorico. There are also at least a dozen tents with local vendors set up in the parking lot. Alas, many of you can't take off work to go stand in line at a grocery store. I've got you covered. Here is the last set of preview photos anyone has taken prior to the store's opening. Considering many "preview" photo galleries were sans products on the shelves, in this instance I'm happy to be LAST.

The produce section looks like an art gallery.

List of community partners, first section to the left upon walking inside. 

Throughout the store, they encourage shoppers to buy local. Except for bananas, which obviously are not local.

You have no idea the restraint I exhibited here. 

The beer selection does not suck, and there's a ton of local beers with signs designating how far away the brewery is.

They REALLY want you to know this.
These signs are made from repurposed street signs. Notice also the stamped tin ceiling, a common design element in Detroit's historic buildings.
Here is just a small sample of some of the local products they carry.
The tables in the cafe are made from recycled car hoods. The opening day sign in the background further shows their enthusiasm.
A view from above, in the community rooms upstairs. Yes there are community rooms. Please inquire for usage.
A view from behind. 

For more photos (couldn't fit them all in one post!), check out the Flickr set here.