SUMMIT COUNTY, Colorado - Roaring Fork Valley residents showed their enthusiasm for Whole Foods Market Wednesday when wave after wave of shoppers rolled through the store starting at 10 a.m. and easing only slightly by mid-afternoon.
The long-awaited natural and organic grocer opened at Willits Town Center in Basalt with a bread-breaking ceremony that replaced the traditional ribbon cutting. While the ground-breaking ceremony was well attended - with 250 or so gawkers - droves of shoppers came after the doors opened. The wait in check-out lanes was at 15 minutes by 11 a.m. but shoppers maintained a festive mood.
"It feels vibrant and alive and is obviously teeming with people today," midvalley resident Jennifer Lane said about the new store. "Nobody minds waiting. Everybody's excited. I'm thrilled."
An informal survey with a handful of shoppers indicated they liked what they saw and they will come back for more - often.
Patty Phelan of Carbondale was enthused enough to attend a breakfast outside the store that raised funds for the Buddy Program. She had to leave for work in Aspen prior to the opening but she vowed she will be one of the best customers at the new grocery store.
Phelan said she already shops at Whole Foods in Superior when she visits friends. She takes a huge cooler and packs it full.
"I've been doing that for three years, once a month," she said.
Now she will visit Whole Foods Roaring Fork frequently, to the exclusion of other grocers. She touted the chicken, fish, meat and vegetables at Whole Foods.
"This is my every-day store," she said.
Chris Butler of Carbondale was one of the first customers to check out of the new store. He grabbed juice and a healthy snack on his way to work in Aspen.
"I'm super excited. I never thought we'd see the day," Butler said.
Whole Foods reached an agreement in 2005 to open at Willits Town Center, noted the grocer's regional president, Will Paradise, in a short presentation at the grand opening. He said his daughter, who was standing next to him on the flatbed of an old pickup while he addressed the crowd, was then a 1-year old. Now she is 8.
"I'm fully aware how long this has taken," Paradise quipped.
Financial difficulties caused by the recession sunk the efforts of a previous owner of the Willits Town Center development from building the grocery store. Mariner Real Estate Management of Kansas City acquired the property and resurrected a deal with the grocery store. The long history, as dramatic as a soap opera, is now academic.
"Today the dream becomes a reality for us," Paradise said.
A Whole Foods is also proposed for Frisco, on Summit Boulevard located adjacent to Interstate 70 across from Safeway.