Whole Foods store set for Eugene

By Ilene Aleshire

The Register-Guard

The store size is about average for the Austin, Texas-based chain and will carry the range of products carried by all Whole Foods stores.

EUGENE, Ore. — It’s official. Whole Foods Market is coming to Eugene, company officials confirmed Wednesday, almost a decade after the company first made its interest in the city known.

The 33,750-square-foot store is scheduled to open early in the first quarter of 2016 at the corner of Broadway and High Street in downtown Eugene, spokeswoman Susan Livingston said. The store, which will employ the equivalent of 150 full-time workers, will be the company’s ninth in Oregon.

“We have long believed that Eugene was a wonderful place for Whole Foods Market because the community’s values mirror so much of what we hold important,” said Joe Rogoff, the company’s regional president for the Pacific Northwest.

The store size is about average for the Austin, Texas-based chain, Livingston said, and will carry the range of products carried by all Whole Foods stores, including a wide selection of natural and organic food, sustainable seafood, humanely raised meats and prepared foods and bakery items made in-house.

Each store is, however, tailored to the preferences of its community, which is reflected in the product mix, from produce to prepared foods, as well as the decor, Livingston said.

Confirmation that the company is opening a store here, first disclosed in a quarterly filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, was greeted with applause by downtown advocates.

“We think this is a great step for downtown,” said Sarah Bennett, president of Downtown Eugene Inc. and a principal with Bennett Management Co.

“Our united goal is to draw more people downtown on a regular basis,” Bennett said. Whole Foods helps to fulfill that goal, she said, particularly with its site’s proximity to both the University of Oregon and Ferry Street Bridge, which links downtown with north Eugene.

“I think it will draw a broad cross-section of the community downtown on a regular basis,” Bennett said. “Certainly, we believe it will give a big lift to our street-level retail activity downtown. ... People who generally don’t often cross the river will be more inclined to come spend time shopping downtown.”

And, Bennett said, “I think that it’s being built by a very high-quality developer who has great interest in downtown. This will give us a big boost.”

The project has been spearheaded by Broadway and Pearl Associates, an investment firm led by local businessman Dan Giustina, who has previously redeveloped downtown property he owns. Whole Foods said it had signed a lease for the store with Broadway & High LLC, another Giustina-led firm.

Eugene Chamber of Commerce President Dave Hauser said Wednesday that downtown “has been on a positive path for at least the last 24 months and a project of this magnitude, I think, can help solidify the trajectory that downtown is on.”

“For those of us who have been working on downtown issues for a long time, there’s been a lot of good news, but it can still feel sort of fragile, like we’re one or two nice projects away from solidifying that trajectory,” said Hauser, who is also executive director of Downtown Eugene Inc. “This fits the bill for one of those projects.

“By 2015, we will have roughly 3,000 residents downtown,” he continued, including some student housing projects nearing completion. “This is another great piece of momentum; those downtown residents need services.”

And, Hauser said, “It’s nice to just dispense with a piece of our political history that we can toss aside and welcome a great retailer, a great company, downtown.”

Whole Foods’ interest in locating in Eugene had generated some controversy, with some residents welcoming the news and others objecting because, they said, the company -- the nation’s largest natural foods grocer -- could take business away from smaller, locally owned stores.

Whole Foods’ Livingston said Wednesday, that, “Sure, day to day, we compete. But I think we’re all growing, and that we can find ways to co-exist peacefully and work together to grow awareness (of natural and organic foods).”

Tim Campbell, owner of Campbell Commercial Real Estate, said he anticipates that other retailers -- both local and national -- may follow Whole Foods to downtown Eugene.

“I think we still need some major employment downtown, to give it the utmost stability,” he said. “It would be great to have a couple more professional companies, medium- to large-size companies that employ a lot of people.”

Campbell said he isn’t among those worrying about the impact of Whole Foods on locally owned grocers. Market of Choice, for example, “is a great grocer,” he said, “and they will continue to be great. They are constantly improving to meet people’s needs and (contribute) a lot to the community.”

Whole Foods executives said in a conference call with stock analysts Wednesday that the company had recorded record profits for its most recent quarter of $3.4 billion, and that they strongly believe in continuing to invest in new and existing stores.

“We see every new store opening as an opportunity to innovate, and with 33 openings over the last four quarters, we are evolving and differentiating our shopping experience faster than ever before,” co-CEO Walter Robb said.

Fortune magazine named Whole Foods to its 2014 list of 100 Best Companies to Work For. It was the 17th year the company has made the list.

Whole Foods said its employees vote every year on what benefits they want. The current list includes health care, paid time off, stock options, programs to improve employee health and a retirement savings plan.

Follow Ilene on Twitter @ialeshire . Email ilene.aleshire@registerguard.com .



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