Whole Foods Saves Detroit?

The Austin grocery chain will open up a store in the Motor City's slowly revitalizing Midtown neighborhood next year. 
Tue April 17, 2012 2:27 am
Flickr | bookgrl

Troubled Detroit, Michigan, may finally get a trail mix bar ... or at least a place to get organic produce that will also be a symbol of the city's comeback.

As Jeff Karoub of the Associated Press  reported, Whole Foods is moving in to Detroit's Midtown neighborhood, which Karoub says "is an anomaly in a tough city enduring very tough times: People are moving in, businesses are opening and hopes are high."

"Obviously, we're stretching a bit" with the location, Whole Foods co-CEO Walter Robb  told John Gallagher of the Detroit Free Press,  but he said he thought the store would ultimately be successful, in part because Detroit remains underserved by grocery stores.

Last week Robb gave a speech about the store to the Detroit Economic Club, which  live-tweeted some of his remarks. Robb praised the spirit and determination of Detroiters, discussed farm-raised versus wild-caught fish, and argued that "the 'expensive thing' is overstated."

According to Ryan Kelly of Crain's Detroit , the project is expected to cost an estimated $10 million, with almost $5 million of that coming from state and local incentives.

Michigan retail analyst Kenneth Dalto speculated to the AP's Karoub that the 21,000-foot store might be a little different from some other stores, because, he said, "this is not a gourmet area."

As Karoub wrote:

The grocery chain has something in common with Detroit: battling adversity. It was hit hard during the recent recession and revamped itself by cutting costs, slowing growth and carrying more lower-priced foods.

Dalto said that last move will prove critical in Midtown, where the demographic mix includes plenty of 20-somethings who don’t yet have the pocketbooks or palates for gourmet foods. He expects the store’s selection will tilt a little more in favor of necessities and brands younger people grew up with.

“They’re going to go lighter on some of the gourmet stuff … and (stock) more brand names than names nobody has heard of or things that are overly expensive,” he predicted.

But Gallagher reported that Robb said Detroiters had told him "not to treat the city as a second-class market worthy of less than Whole Foods' trademark fresh fruits and vegetables grown organically." And it seems unlikely Whole Foods is about to start stocking Cheerios. As Robb said in his speech:

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