Area food-fanatics rejoiced as Whole Foods – the high-profile grocery gang that super-sized the natural-food concept, and who once prompted the singer Jewel to tweet “At Whole Foods... Dear Lord, lead me not into temptation” – opened the doors to its brand new location in Rocky River. It was a highly anticipated event that – if nothing else – finally concluded the “Whole Foods is coming" rumor, which simmered in River for what felt like an eternity.
It was not my task to sample the vegan parfait or kale chips, but to simply soak in the scene. I was armed only with the entertaining text messages received from my neighborhood moms that braved opening day.
“I’m heading in. I hear its hypnotic. If you don’t hear from me in an hour, come get me.”
It is impressive. Whole Foods has the “scoop-your-own-shrimp” charm of Trader Joe’s, and the “this-animal-spent-its-whole-life-on-the-same-farm” vibe of earth-first America. And the aesthetics? Well, where Giant Eagle fills an open spot with a rack full of Ohio State Snuggies, I couldn’t help but notice that the LaCroix coconut-flavored sparkling water cases were arranged in the aisle with a curvy, art gallery-inspired design. There are electric car chargers in the parking lot, dining areas awash in natural light, and a prepared food section that’s nice and roomy.
“I can’t get near the place! People r parking by the library and walking.”
Did I say roomy? Ah yes, the traffic – the 800-pound organic avocado in the room. Detroit Road didn’t have much elbow room to start with, so it’s no surprise that virtually every person I spoke to believed that the traffic issues were going to be as bad as imagined. One friend even told me that a nearby preschool had sent its parents maps with “back door” routes to pick up their children.
“I felt a little like I was cheating on my Heinen's produce guys.”
I will admit that I didn’t want to like Whole Foods too much. After all, there are about 22 people at Heinen’s and Nature’s Bin that I’d like to invite to my house for Thanksgiving. I wasn’t alone. Most of the locals that I talked to cringed a little (or a lot) when I asked them about the nearby grocers. What I found wasn’t just an overall concern for the other stores, but a sincere connection to the people that worked there – the “people behind the counter” at Lake Road Market, the late-shift ladies at Giant Eagle, and, yes, almost anyone at Heinen’s. These sentiments made me feel better about the shoppers that I had - just minutes before - traded paint with while attempting to land a parking spot that didn’t require a tram ride. We all like people who care.
I ended up at the self-serve Artisanal Pasta station, thinking about whether or not I cared about my chicken dinner living on two different farms. It took two friendly staffers to help me figure out how to latch the to-go containers.
“Happy to help,” they said.
It was a good sign. Even a rock star like Whole Foods knows that organic superfoods are no match for good people.
Tim Piai is a freelance writer living in Rocky River.