Scott Condon
The Aspen Times
Eagle County, CO Colorado

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August 1, 2012
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Whole Foods in Basalt scrambles for opening

BASALT - Whole Foods Market is scrambling to fill the shelves and complete the interior decor of the 26,000-square-foot supermarket it is opening Aug. 15 in Basalt.

The space at Willits Town Center is the tale of two puzzles right now. Specialty coordinators out of Whole Foods' regional office are stocking shelves with goods that aren't time sensitive. The produce, meat, seafood, dairy, bakery and prepared-foods sections will remain bare until closer to the opening. Meanwhile, construction crews flit around the inside making final adjustments.

Roughly 60 jobs were created and filled by Roaring Fork Valley residents. There were 250 applicants. Those hired are going through training now.

Rocky Mountain Regional President Will Paradise said he liked what he saw while touring the Willits store Tuesday afternoon. He said some observers have asked him why the company is opening a store that's only 26,000 square feet. He said it's the perfect size for the Roaring Fork Valley market at this time.

Whole Foods initially planned a grocery store that exceeded 40,000 square feet. Plans changed when the recession hit. A Chicago firm that was former owner and developer of Willits Town Center twice failed to meet conditions of a contract to deliver the shell of a building to the natural grocer chain.

Whole Foods Market stuck with plans to open in Basalt despite the poor economy and the midvalley development's fiscal woes.

"It was close to not happening," Paradise said.

The key was scaling down the project. A third contract was signed with Mariner Real Estate Management, a company that acquired most of Willits Town Center out of foreclosure. Mariner turned over the exterior shell in mid-May.

The Willits store, officially dubbed Whole Foods Market Roaring Fork, will be No. 332 opened by the national chain. Of those stores, roughly 70 are smaller than the Willits store, Paradise said. Several of the smaller stores are "killing it" in sales, he said.

Paradise remains confident the store will do well in the Roaring Fork Valley, as well, relying on customers of all types, from wealthy second-home owners in Aspen to middle-class families throughout the valley.

Whole Foods is aware that valley residents are driving to its stores on the Front Range as well as the Target store in Glenwood Springs and Costco in Gypsum. That leads company officials to believe they will come from throughout the valley to the Willits store.

Customers won't get shortchanged because of the size of the Willits store, Paradise said.

"I think people are going to find what they're looking for here," he said.

The store will stock everything customers are accustomed to, maybe just not as wide of a variety as other, larger stores, said Ben Friedland, Whole Foods Market spokesman. The Willits store will stock "the best of the best," he said.

The best, in this case, includes beef from Crystal River Meats in Carbondale, produce from throughout the Western Slope, special baked goods from Midland Bakery in Basalt and goat cheese from Avalanche Cheese Co. of Basalt. All told, more than 40 Colorado vendors signed up to provide goods, many of them from the Roaring Fork Valley.

Roaring Fork Valley residents in focus groups told Whole Foods officials months ago that locally grown food was even more important than organic, Friedland said. The grocer has responded by going "super-local," he said. And customers will get the message.

"You walk in the store, and you're going to have piles of peaches from Palisade," Friedland said.

The wood for an ample number of produce bins came from beetle-killed pine in Colorado.

Customers can take a sneak peek for themselves. Tours will be offered Aug. 12 and 13. Groups of 20 will be led through the store every 15 minutes.

"Our goal is to get 1,000 people through the store," Friedland said.

Sign up at www.facebook.com, and search for "Whole Foods Market Roaring Fork."

scondon@aspentimes.com


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The VailDaily Updated Aug 1, 2012 10:13PM Published Aug 1, 2012 10:11PM Copyright 2012 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.