Monday, September 08, 2008

Bike Ride to Whole Foods in Short Pump, Pt. 3

The people at the customer service desk were very receptive about getting a bike rack. I decided against prattling on about the need for Whole Foods to encourage non-car travel. Even though bicycling to Short Pump might seem a little crazy for those who don't live in one of the surrounding developments, it's just good business to model the ethics behind your products. I also just wanted the staff to know that the bike ride from downtown is possible. Only 45 minutes, as it turns out.

If this you missed the first two, here's part one and part two.

Luckily for me, the achievement of arriving twelve miles from home on a hot day, under my own power, totally restored my sapped energy and made me more than a little giddy. I had walked into a carnival atmosphere of awestruck customers and "hihowareya" employees. At every turn there were things to try and slick design and attractively arranged foods and products. It was sensory overload. The other customers were all walking around like they were trying out a new pair of shoes, nodding in that "yeah, I could get used to this" kinda of way.

Let me clue you in up front so you don't get the wrong impression about my angle here. I don't like health food stores, big or small. They're almost always too expensive to the point of elitism, and yet, I want everything I see in those places. Consequently, I can't decide on even a few purchases and I spend loads of time wandering in a state of paralysis. Most everything I see gives me ideas about cooking, or eating, or learning something new and they're all fragmented incomplete thoughts. That's not how I like to shop. I like to find diamonds in the rough and bargain basement deals. To be fair, Whole Foods is a culinarily Mecca worthy of a pilgrimage if it's within your means. To each their own, right?

I previously complained about Penzey's for the same reason. I don't want all that stuff under one roof. I want to hunt down obscure stuff in obscure places. And when it comes to splurging on natural products, I prefer to rifle through the clearance bins, discount stores, salvage markets, or closeout items at Kroger. In other words, I probably won't be a regular customer at Whole Foods, even though the place is a breathtaking thing of beauty. I'm pretty well satisfied by Kroger, occasional stops at Sam's Club, Tan-A, and various Latino markets and specialty stores. If I do go to Whole Foods, it will be on my way home from Trader Joe's (opening 9/26/08)

Needless to say, Whole Foods had no clearance bin (it being day four and all). There were sale prices and opening weekend specials. But over all, the place was absolutely teeming with excess. I mean, obscene amounts of prepared foods and endless displays of produce. I felt like I'd walked into Willy Wonka's factory, where even the ground you walked on was edible. Who's gonna eat all this stuff? I can't fit it all in my bike basket. This is a crisis! We've got to get this cornucopia to the people who need it. All these "customers" are just gawking, like me. No way all of this stuff gets bought. What happens to all the stuff after the store's initial buzz wear's off?

Okay, Jason, calm down. Overproduction is a business tactic. They're just trying to dazzle us (it worked!). The Whole Foods staff will surely be proactive about funneling would be waste to Richmond's soup kitchens and food banks instead of the trash compactor. There's nothing to worry about. Eat something and poke around for a while.

Samples that served as my lunch (and breakfast):
  • Tortilla chips with queso dip
  • really good green olive hummus samples
  • chipotle salsa
  • deliciously dark Desk coffee, from the Blanchard roasters on Forrest Hill
  • onion cream cheese and red pepper cream cheese on sesame crackers
  • Shennendoah Joe coffee from CVille
  • Parano cheese (twice)
  • crab dip
  • guacamole and chips
  • sun screen from a tester bottle (reapplying to face, neck, shoulders for the ride home)
  • pineapple
  • pound cake and lemon curd
Ahhh, that's better. Now, let's talk about this big opening. There was a lot of skepticism about Whole Foods in Short Pump (probably still is). The thing is: green, organic, local - all of these things are currently riding a marketing tidal wave. Little stores like Ellwoods and Good Foods can't supply the surging demand for the entire region. So, Whole Foods has moved in at an opportune time. Just check out Fresh Market by Regency. They're crowded every weekend. It just goes to show that "if you build it, they will come" (assuming you have the stuff they want). And that's why Whole Foods was going all out to make a big first impression: to create lasting customers beyond the eco-fad and into the economic downturn.

A couple store details that really grabbed me:

The seafood was immaculate, voluminous, and included esoteric varieties. There's an amazing wine cafe in the middle of the place where you can pay for samples of each bottle and sit and contemplate oaky nose and notes of pepper corns before buying. The inside and outside seating for eating is really cool looking. The salad bar is like Ellwoods times five or ten. I seriously expected to find a blogging station in the store designed so customers can brag online or Twitter about the tantalizing foods. No public computers, as it turned out. But there were a whole lot of local and Virginia based products and exhibitors. The parmasano reggiano was on sale for $13/lb and the Gruyere was actually affordable. Sure, the prices are over all high, but the Whole Foods brand products tend to be competitive with name brand products from a traditional grocery store.

Feeling pretty satisfied by the samples, I almost strolled out of the store without buying anything. After investigating the place from top to bottom for almost an hour - can you believe that? Their beautiful pizzas by the slice tempted me with their exotic toppings. Then I started worrying about my ride home and decided to buy an energy bar to help propel my legs. I also found a product that my wife had been wanting for when we don't feel like making these lactation cookies.

And that was it. Kinda anti-climactic, huh? What, did you expect the frugal guy to rent a uHaul and buy out half the store with money I don't have? I'm actually an exception to the target market for Whole Foods (although I'm blogging like they're paying me, right?). I was there to take part in the spectacle and the bike ride aleviated most of my self-conscious and political concerns. Of the hundreds of people that I encountered, there were virtually no familiar faces. I kinda wanted to chew the fat with someone and maybe brag about my bike ride (to someone other than the staff). I called Karen, who is excited to visit the place (although she feels about the same as me. It won't be a regular thing for us). I oogled some babies, since Karen and Jasper were out of town for the weekend. And somehow, I failed to acquire a single compliment on my carrot socks. Because I was carrying a helmet and cycling shoes, I did get some stares like I was wearing beachwear in Alaska. But, that's suburbia for ya. For me, just a place to visit and hopefully make a scene in the process.

All that was left was to ride home, but I felt like procrastinating a little. I wasn't really worried about the physical trial of the ride. It would be almost a victory lap, having made it this far. So, now I just need to make a couple other Short Pump stops to make the shopping trip really worthwhile. And that's the crux of the issue here. What on earth could Short Pump offer that would make the long distance trek truly necessary (by car or bike, for that matter). Do we NEED corporate wonderland, or does the big box paradise need us? Well, West Elm and H&M, her I come...

To be continued... (the epilogue is much shorter, I promise). Sorry, if this thing is dragging on. I've still got loose ends to tie up, but I may have kinda poured most of my available prose into part two. Remind me about any issues we need to wrap up, in case I forget.

"Did you forget my teething pops?"

Here is part 4.

9 comments:

  1. The little no-neck monsters were ramming their microbe laden paws into the the freebie food when I was there at Whole Paycheck (what they call it in Austin).

    I guess West End kids have no manners, not unlike those who spawned them.

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  2. Hey. I resemble that remark.

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  3. Mine have all finished college..

    but I saw some churchily dressed kiddywinkies slam-dunking into the cubed pineapple and the chip'n'dip altars...

    I did not partake.. since there a hellacious stomach flu going around out there.

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  4. I'm not particularly cootie conscious, especially when such fears might prevent me from trying new things for FREE.

    Around the office, people keep asking me why I didn't buy more stuff. Um, bike ride. Hot sun. Indecision. And, really I was spectating and evaluating. Buying and eating a bunch might have affected my objective observer status and the foregone conclusions that I brought with me on my ride. You can bet I'll buy some stuff when I've got my lady to impress.

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  5. You kid hasn't brought home the crud which lays the whole household low.. yet.

    Things can only get more interesting. Make sure he eats plenty of dirt for antibodies..

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  6. Dee Dee1:20 PM

    This is great - and THANK YOU for riding your bike!! I went on Sunday morning (in the car - 8 miles round trip is about all I can do!) I hear ya on so many of the "issues" you bring up and I too am way more excited about TJ's. Why oh why can't we have a TJ's in the city????

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  7. I went there twice and spent two hours each time...but I really did not buy much...I was actually comparing prices of their goods with other supermarkets. I agree...their own brand seems pretty competitive.

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  8. Desk Coffee Company1:11 PM

    I'd like to thank you for linking our website ( www.deskcoffee.com) in your blog and I'm very glad you enjoyed our coffee! I'm guessing you were the gentleman wearing shorts and carrying his bike helmet around in a little black hand basket. We appreciate your business and I enjoyed reading your blog. Keep helping us spread the word!

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  9. Desk Coffee: It was a pleasure. Your dark roast, "The Shredder," really hit the spot. I'll be coming by for more of that and a bag to go. Thanks for remembering me.

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