“We don’t really have a grocery store on 125th Street,” said Shelly Brown, who has been living in Harlem since she was born. Now Whole Foods has announced plans to fill in the blank.
Its new 39,000 square-foot store, the ninth Whole Foods in Manhattan but Harlem’s first, will open on what is now a vacant lot at Lenox Avenue and 125th in the summer of 2015, Christina Minardi, president of Whole Foods Market’s northeast region, said in an online statement yesterday.
Some residents and business leaders are excited to have Whole Foods next door. “It is going to introduce healthy eating habits into the neighborhood,” said Giovanni Amos, 27, who works and lives in Harlem. “I had enough of all those unhealthy fast foods on 125th Street. I’d rather pay more for my health. ”
“We have limited food options in this neighborhood. It is always good to have more, especially good quality food,” said Regina Smith, executive director of Harlem Business Alliance.
But Whole Foods is relatively expensive. “There might be some residents that are concerned about the cost of their offerings,” Smith said, adding, “I believe the Whole Foods will find a way to make some adjustments.”
“It might be higher than what they are used to,” Amos said of local shoppers. “But they will manage to get used to it if they really like it.”
Lower prices are the major reason some local grocery stores feel confident about facing this big retailer.
Harlem’s Meat sells fresh vegetables and meat only a few blocks away, displaying everything from prime rib to organic chicken to smoked country ham. Broccoli, bell peppers and other colorful vegetables pile up neatly along the aisles.
“We are not worried about them at all,” said manager Carlos Delgado. “There is a big class of the poor in this neighborhood. They won’t go buy $11.99 a pound meat when they can get $6.99 here, as fresh. Whole Foods’ people are the ones who have to bring down their price to compete with us.”
But price doesn’t decide everything. “Whole Foods might not have as appealing price but it’s going to raise the bar in Harlem,” said Laurent Delly, vice president of the Mount Morris Park Community Improvement Association. “It will be providing quality produce and service so that small businesses have to step up the game to keep their customers. ”
Delly also said that community leaders hope big retailers like Whole Foods will work with the community and make some contributions to improve neighborhood infrastructure.
Along with the Harlem location, Whole Foods plans a new 38,000-square-foot store store at 87th Street and Third Avenue on the Upper East Side, to open in early 2014.