By Anthony Deen
Whole Foods Market announced last week that it is finally moving forward with its first Brooklyn store. No longer will Brooklynites who love Whole Foods have to shop in the company’s Manhattan stores and lug heavy bags filled with groceries through a crowded transit system.
Since the store was originally proposed in 2006 Whole Foods has responded to concerns expressed by CB6 about the overall size of the store. The original 2006 press release presented a store of 68,000 sf on three levels with open-air parking for 430 cars. The revised store is now down to 52,000 sf with parking for 248 cars. The new design also contains a rooftop garden to offer locally grown produce, a new Whole Foods feature. On a preservation note, the historic building on the corner of Third Avenue and Third Street will remain in place.
The store design is a hybrid of Whole Foods typical urban and suburban models. It retains urban concepts such as extensive “grab and go” prepared food offerings and a centrally located café. At the same time the addition of on-site parking is a suburban gesture and an acknowledgement that local foot traffic and mass transportation may not bring in sufficient customers to support the store.
Given the popularity of Whole Foods stores and the fact that this store is more centrally located between Park Slope and Carroll Gardens than either the nearby Pathmark or Fairway, they’ll draw substantial neighborhood foot traffic and possibly shoppers using mass transit. The inclusion of on-site parking though will reduce pressure on the local streets (witness the triple parked cars outside the Whole Foods at the Time Warner Center on the weekends) but will also entice shoppers to use their cars instead of more infrastructure and clean air friendly alternatives.
The parking area is on the canal side of the property but we have yet to see a plan of how the store will engage the Canal. A former oyster farm and tidal pool the area is rife with possibilities. When Lowes came into the neighborhood local activists and City Planning were able to get them to build a park-like promenade at the canal edge. Unfortunately due to its proximity to the parking lot and its lack of connection to any other amenities, it goes basically unused. Certainly the ferry landing and café at Fairway represent a much better model for engagement of the water’s edge.
At the last EPA CAG meeting, EPA Gowanus project manager Christos noted that he will reach out to Whole Foods to confirm that their now cleaned site presents no further contamination threats to the Canal. It should be noted that the property Whole Foods purchased adjacent to the Third Avenue Bridge might include a portion of the Canal that was illegally filled in, and a question remains as to who will clean that area and if it will be returned to its water based origin.
The two big issues facing the neighborhood in the light of the new store’s pending arrival will be:
1. Increased pressure on existing infrastructure
The arrival of the Ikea store saw substantial increases in subway, bus and foot traffic between the Smith and 9th Street station and the store’s location in Red Hook. The Whole Foods site is served by the M and R trains at Union Street and the 103 bus line along Third and Fourth Avenues, but there is no east-west bus service on 3rd street. Bus service on 9th Street will have to suffice.
Will the City learn the lessons of Ikea and increase local bus and subway service to the area? More importantly, will the DOT install traffic calming measures to reduce the inevitable automobile/ pedestrian conflicts around the busy intersections along Third and Fourth Avenues?
2. Impact on local businesses
Both the Wall Street Journal and The Daily News conducted online polls asking whether readers thought the arrival of Whole Foods is a good thing for Brooklyn. To date the response has been 60 to 70 percent positive about the chain’s impending arrival.
The addition of the Whole Foods may impact the other large supermarkets in the area, but not enough to put them out of business. The Park Slope Co-op also looks safe due to its low-price and member-supported business model.
A greater negative impact could be on the many “Main Street” specialty food stores in Park Slope and Carroll Gardens. Mid-size businesses like Union Market’s two locations, Park Natural on Court Street and Back to the Land on Seventh Avenue could be severely impacted. Small gourmet, specialty markets like Stinky’s, Brooklyn Larder, Bierkraft, Caputo’s and GRAB that define a large part of what we love about our communities could see a severe reduction in sales. Our continued support will to be paramount to the survival of these wonderful businesses and Whole Foods will hopefully merge into the fabric of a sustainable retail community rather than overwhelming it.