From the slyly named sandwiches in the deli to the emphasis on showcasing local artists, it's apparent that the new Whole Foods on Waugh is more committed than ever to being a "neighborhood" grocery store.
It's a smart move for the Austin-based store, especially in an area that's seen a revitalized Kroger and a new H-E-B -- as well as a Target that now has an expanded grocery section -- trying to capture the same demographic. But the neighborhood seems to want this new Whole Foods as much as Whole Foods wants it right back.
"I can't believe how much interest there's been in...a grocery store," laughed Kim Crowder, community relations coordinator for Houston, as she showed a group of media people around the soon-to-be-open store this afternoon. Aside from the media, Whole Foods had invited out area residents, business owners and non-profits to tour the 45,000-square-foot facility; eager crowds had been moving throughout the store since yesterday.
"But," she pointed out, "it's not just a grocery store. It's Whole Foods."
To know Whole Foods is to love it, despite what can be seen as high prices and congested stores. Rarely do grocery stores put as much emphasis on community relations as it does. Sandwiches in the deli are named after various neighborhoods in the area. Free WiFi in the coffee bar -- which opens at 7 a.m. daily, an hour earlier than the store itself -- encourages patrons to sit a spell. And local artists such as Syd Moen and David A. Brown have their works prominently showcased on the store's walls.
Even the color scheme was created with Montrose in mind, said Crowder as she pointed to the color blocks throughout: "They were designed to be a nod to the gay pride flag," she noted.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of the store, however, has nothing at all to do with the neighborhood but seems guaranteed to draw residents in regardless: a full wine and beer bar, positioned smack in the middle of the store. Between the meat and seafood departments, patrons can grab a glass of wine or beer -- both are on tap -- and enjoy their libations with snacks like cheese trays prepared right behind them in the cheese department.
They can also take their wine and beer to one of Whole Foods's large patios. The one at the front of the property has a killer view of downtown, the skyline unobstructed for now.
"You should host a Fourth of July fireworks viewing party," I told Crowder as we ended our tour.
"You know what?" she grinned back. "That's a great idea."
For a full tour of Whole Foods, check out our slideshow. There's simply too much to fit in one post.