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Breaking news! ‘Whole’ lot of nothing as food megastore abandons Gowanus site

The Brooklyn Paper
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Whole Foods has shelved its plans to open its first Brooklyn branch on Third Avenue near the Gowanus Canal, The Brooklyn Paper has learned.

The grocery chain, known for its high-end food and prices to match, said on Wednesday that it does still hope to come to Brooklyn, but it won’t be at its polluted parcel at the corner of Third Street.

“Whole Foods does not have immediate plans to open in Brooklyn,” said company spokeswoman Mara Engel Weleck, who suggested that the land would be sold.

Whole Foods would have become part of a growing gourmet movement in Brooklyn, joining such big-time grocers as Fairway and Trader Joe’s to hawk expensive edibles to the borough’s well-heeled consumers.

But its proposed site between tony Park Slope and Carroll Gardens was contentious from the start, not only because of the toxicity of the canal-zone location, but also because of the inclusion of a 420-space parking lot, which some critics pointed out was bigger than many suburban stores.

“We welcome the idea of Whole Foods … but from the beginning, we felt their plan was highly inappropriate because it called for a huge parking lot,” Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors said after learning about the store’s demise.

Still, legions of fans will be disappointed by the prolonged wait for their favorite corporate heath food shop to finally open in Kings County.

There had been no progress at the site for years, due to the environmental hazards and tightened credit markets, but the Austin-based retailer always insisted through terse statements that it would someday be a beacon for the hungry masses with a yen for Tofutti and edamame.

Dangerously high levels of benzene found in 2006 in the soil, from a nearby Verizon property, created an obstacle for the Whole Foods.

Even though the work stalled, Whole Foods announced last fall it was looking to partner with developers to jumpstart the supermarket. And as recently as this February, Whole Foods remained committed to the site by submitting a state environmental application, a prerequisite for any construction.

The grocery chain’s decision to suspend work at the Third Avenue site was first reported by Brooklyn the Borough, a Web site.

Updated 3:17 am, July 11, 2009: Story was updated to include an e-mail exchange between reporter Mike McLaughlin and the Whole Foods spokeswoman. Read it in the comment field below.
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Reader Feedback

someone from park slope says:
I been in that empty lot area. Its beutifull they take down the fence and turn it into open land not park land but just a giant open space
July 8, 2009, 4:50 pm
sid from Boerum Hill says:
told you so...
July 8, 2009, 7:30 pm
Rhywun from Bay Ridge says:
Brooklyn deserves an *urban* store, not this suburban junk you'd find in Nassau County. Find a better location.
July 8, 2009, 9:30 pm
gowanee from gowanus says:
2:50 I share your sentiment. Whole Foods should donate that land for wetlands restoration-it would help remediate the canal area. I'm sure they could get some tax break deal through the right channels. Boy, would that be a break for Gowanus!
July 9, 2009, 3:56 am
Gowanus Gus from Gowanus says:
This indicates the canal is in as bad a shape as the EPA says for a company to walk away from the perfect location (if traffic is mobbed at fairway, imagine what this store could have brought.) We all better hope bloomberg doesn't sink the superfund.
July 9, 2009, 8:01 am
Steve from Downtown says:
The last thing we need is another big box with a big parking lot. Trader Joe's does very well at Court and Atlantic without a huge parking lot. Whole Foods is also anti union employer.
July 9, 2009, 8:41 am
Matt from Park Slope says:
Neither Trader Joe's nor Fairway are accurately described as "hawking expensive edibles to well-heeled customers." More apt comparisons would be Union Market and the new gourmet market in Carroll Gardens. Might make a nice-sounding sentence, but it's this kind of basic factual issue that frustrates me about The Brooklyn Paper.
July 9, 2009, 11:26 am
Leon Freilich from Park Slope says:
THROWING IN TOXIC TOWEL

What were these guys thinking?
Hired an engineer?
At a watering hole,
Must've been heavily drinking.

Fluid not so Wholesome
Something Fairway sent?
Something from the canal,
Highly virulent.
July 9, 2009, 2:28 pm
Whole Foods Market says:
Hi, Whole Foods Market here, I'm Libba -- I'd like to correct the misinformation in this story. Whole Foods Market DOES continue to pursue plans for a future store at the Gowanus site in Brooklyn. Our spokesperson’s statement that we have “no immediate plans” to open a store DOES NOT mean that we are not actively progressing towards plans for development. Since the fall, we have been working to identify potential development partners for a Brooklyn store, and we are continuing these efforts. In making these plans, nothing has been finalized and we can’t provide extra details yet, but we'll be sure to let everyone know when there are more developments to report. As most people understand, this is a complicated process, but rest assured that we are committed to Brooklyn, and we look forward to bringing our products and services to this community.
July 10, 2009, 3:36 pm
Rocky from South Brooklyn says:
Seems like Gersh has been sampling some Amsterdam weed a bit too soon before his trip there.
July 10, 2009, 4:13 pm
Gersh the Editor says:
Yes, I'm in Holland, but sober enough to know that we stand by our story. Here's the full, unedited exchange between my reporter Mike McLaughlin and Whole Foods spokeswoman Mara Engel. Read it for yourself (she even thanks Mike at the end for getting the news out):

From: McLaughlin, Michael [mailto:mmclaughlin@cnglocal.com]
Sent: Wednesday, July 08, 2009 3:03 PM
To: Mara Engel
Subject: Re: Whole Foods Market

Just so we’re clear, when we were on the phone you said that even though Whole Foods plans to eventually open in Brooklyn, they don’t plan to build a store at the Third Avenue location.

RE: Whole Foods Market
Mara Engel [mara@EMAIL REDACTED.com]
Sent: Wednesday, July 08, 2009 3:04 PM
To: McLaughlin, Michael

Correct, not at this moment. Thanks Michael.


GERSH KUNTZMAN
Editor
The Brooklyn Paper
July 11, 2009, 3:08 am
monica cavanagh from park slope says:
i say we take that land and turn it into a park, and name it after the two little boys who were killed by a truck turning the corner there.
July 11, 2009, 10:54 am
Jill from Park Slope says:
Shouldn't the first paragraph read, "...the Brooklyn Paper has learned from reading Brooklyn the Borough." Oh wait, that was buried in the last sentence. Readers: the story came from a story on a blog, not from the award winning paper's crack investigative staff.
July 11, 2009, 1:49 pm
db from carroll gardens says:
Monica: You're thinking of 9th Street, not 3rd. That corner could do by a park.
July 11, 2009, 10:07 pm
Whole Foods Market says:
Whole Foods Market again, Libba here. Certainly, our spokesperson's statement could have been a lot clearer. At the same time, that doesn't change the fact that Whole Foods Market is actively working on plans for a store at the Gowanus site, and we want to be sure that the Brooklyn Paper's readers understand that fact.
July 12, 2009, 11:07 am
Gersh the editor says:
To Libba:

So does that mean Whole Foods is retracting its comment to reporter Mike McLaughlin? If so, I think Whole Foods needs to issue a new statement, this time not criticizing The Brooklyn Paper for an error that Whole Foods is now admitting it made.

Thank you

GERSH KUNTZMAN
Editor
The Brooklyn Paper
July 12, 2009, 11:36 am
JB says:
It doesn't read like an error to me, it reads like your "reporter" jumped to a conclusion based on a fragmentary email. Pretty much the level of "journalism" I expect from the "brooklyn paper".
July 12, 2009, 2:18 pm
Mary says:
I agree - BIG leap made there by the reporter. Seems like a far-fetched attempt to break news that doesn't exist.
July 12, 2009, 3:07 pm
CalicoAvenger from Park Slope says:
Well, I never understood the "wisdom" of trying to open a supermarket in the Gowanus area. It's neither fish nor fowl ... and it's not convenient for anyone in the Slope (at least not the REAL Park Slope, not the Gowanus area that real-estate agents keep trying to pass off as Park Slope). I wonder who did the "due diligence" on that doomed site ... someone who never got their butts out of Texas, and didn't realize what kind of dump 3rd Avenue is? I can get to three of the four downtown Whole Foods on mass transit with less hassle than it would take to get to that idiotic location.
July 12, 2009, 8:43 pm
freddy from slope says:
i hope it does open, with a smaller parking lot and more neighborhood friendly delivery services/shuttles.

i am sure the bought cheap enough to suck up the environmental. the fact that they are trying to play the risk off to a partner is standard operating procedure in the industry.

that being said, i concurr that the story was a bit of a stretch. the fact that whole foods hedged its bet to be "not at this moment" is a pretty clear signal not to count it out.

count one for the new journalism.
July 12, 2009, 9:33 pm
bepositive from Clinton Hill says:
Libba,

Thank you for taking the time to respond. Regardless of who said what to whom, it is good to see that Whole Foods has not given up on Brooklyn.

I assure you that when you come here, you will be received with open arms...and lots of customers. It is funny because I remember years ago a lot of people said a Whole Foods would never work in the City and would I remember lots of folks saying the Chelsea location would fail. How'd that prediction work out? I think it is one of the most profitable locations in your business if I am not mistaken.

Best of luck...
July 13, 2009, 1:19 am
paco from cobble hill says:
Brooklyn Paper, I think you've been a little trigger happy lately. You jumped the gun on the 5th ave bike lane 'protest' claiming merchants were up in arms.... in reality, you sourced only the BID director, not the 103 other 5th ave merchants who actually petition FOR the bike lane a few years ago. And now with Whole Foods coming or not coming, it definitely again seems you jumped the gun reporting before enough content was there for a full in-depth piece. You cover a lot of great stories but please be sure they are full there before going to print from now on... otherwise that's strike 3 in my book (and that's me not counting your support for Atlantic Yards). If there were any other big Brooklyn Papers readily available... I may have already switched my allegiance.
July 13, 2009, 1:40 am
Donald Dump from Atlantic City says:
mara, your'e fired!!!!!!!
July 13, 2009, 2:47 am
Jim from Park Slope says:
If Whole Foods has not given up on the Gowanus site for its Brooklyn store, then why did it take it off of its list of stores in development? It was there a few months ago.
July 13, 2009, 10:09 am
Peter van Snipe from Breukelen says:
Dear Brooklyn,

Take my Gersh--please!

Regards,

All of Holland.
July 13, 2009, 12:40 pm
Born in Brooklyn from Now in the Southwest says:
Has anyone interested in attracting Whole Foods to Brooklyn ever shopped in one of their stores? Where I live now, we have Whole Foods, Sunflower, Sprouts, Trader Joe's and countless others. Whole Foods is consistently much more expensive, and far less "user friendly" than the other stores. While they advertise that they sell organic produce, all one has to do is remember the peanut and peanut butter fiasco of less than one year ago, and then recollect how many products sold by Whole Foods were subject to recall because they never checked their sources of supposedly organic ingredients.

Whole Foods purchased the Wild Oats stores, and within months, the prices rose, for the same merchandise, to Whole Foods levels.

Given the choice, I shop elsewhere.

For those living in Brooklyn now, try to attract Sunflower or Sprouts. They actually label each type of produce with country and/or state of origin.
July 13, 2009, 1:26 pm
Bob from Borough Park says:
Whole Foods,

Gersh Kuntzman does not speak for the people of Brooklyn. Lots of long time Brooklyn residents like me will welcome you with open arms. Please consider other areas as well like Red Hook, Sunset Park and Bensonhurst, all of which have plenty of non-toxic space available.
July 13, 2009, 1:34 pm
sorrenti from dobro says:
Whole foods should consider downtown b'klyn which is the access point to fort greene, bklyn heights, boerum hill, caroll gardens, not to mention the 5 new high rises in the downtown area!! Since when is parking an issue with WF. There is no parking on 14th St.,Houston, W 26th St, or 60th, plus downtown has every train station available. Metrotech would be a great choice, there's college students and the Highrises, and employees from all the office buildings not to mention the new hotels, DOBRO is on its way! Remember what Union Sq. used to be like??
July 13, 2009, 5:19 pm
Ho Fools Market says:
Hi, Ho Fools Market here. I'm not Libba and I think Gersh and the guys need to hit our Amsterdam chain for some nice weed and trim. It is organic.
July 14, 2009, 12:21 am
Kelly from Park Slope says:
Time will tell whether WF will open in Gowanus or not. Jim from PS points out that the location is no longer listed as a store in development. And the statement "not at this time" after years of insisting it was gonna happen sounds shaky to me. Both things combined, I think Gersh made the right call.
July 14, 2009, 12:30 pm
Margaret from Gowanus says:
Whole Foods will never build at 3rd and 3rd.
July 17, 2009, 4:47 pm
SID from Slope-Heights says:
Strongly agree with Matt - my family is on a tight budget and the prices at Fairway and Trader Joes are actually WAY lower on average than Key Food and Associated and all of the Bodegas in the area for healthy, fresh foods. I often have to do a double take a Trader Joes the prices are so low - and for organic produce in volumes big enough to feed a family!

"Neither Trader Joe's nor Fairway are accurately described as "hawking expensive edibles to well-heeled customers." More apt comparisons would be Union Market and the new gourmet market in Carroll Gardens. Might make a nice-sounding sentence, but it's this kind of basic factual issue that frustrates me about The Brooklyn Paper."
July 19, 2009, 12:07 am
monica from park slope says:
thanks db. A park would still be nice.
Aug. 6, 2009, 9:19 pm
Helen from Bay Ridge says:
How about bringing a Whole Foods, or Trader Joe's, or anything worthwhile to Bay Ridge? There are a ton of people who shop at the Essex St. Whole Foods (myself included) because my own, otherwise great, neighborhood is so severely lacking in organic foods.
Aug. 10, 2009, 11:51 am

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