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The addition of a Whole Foods in Tempe excites some, concerns others

The specialty grocery store is slated to open in downtown Tempe in late summer 2019

Whole Foods-1

Construction workers walk by a soon-to-be Whole Foods in Tempe, Arizona, on Tuesday, Jan 29, 2019.

Tempe residents are expressing concerns about the addition of the anticipated Whole Foods grocery store in downtown Tempe, raising issue with potential price impacts it can have on the local community while others point to the increased food options it will provide nearby residents.

The Whole Foods is projected to open in summer 2019, located on the ground floor of The Local Apartment complex.

The development involves a partnership The Local and Whole Foods in an effort to make the complex serve both commercial and residential needs. The complex is scheduled to open on April 1, and the Whole Foods is planned to open later in the year.

“For something that’s called The Local, it’s definitely not for locals,” said Justin Stewart, a former Tempe city council candidate and member of the nearby community. “And that’s kind of the ironic sting to it because us that live here or rent here will like to live here in the future, but developments like this now make it that much harder to stay.”

While some residents of the surrounding community are concerned about the impact that a Whole Foods could have on the future cost of living in Tempe, others say that the store will add a valuable asset to the community.

Ryan Marquez, leasing manager for The Local Apartments, said Whole Foods can satisfy the need for a affordable, good-quality food options in Tempe, as there are not any full-sized grocery stores in the downtown area. 

"The (Whole Foods) brand is really known for sourcing locally used vegetables and products," Marquez said, adding that the store would allow Tempe the opportunity to serve this market.

Forum Real Estate Group is the owner and developer of the property, said Teresa Hanson, the vice president of brand strategy for Forum, adding that the team has worked with the architects and interior design firms to plan out the space.

Mark-Taylor is managing and developing the project along with Forum. 

Lauren Chenarides, an assistant professor at ASU with focuses in food marketing and consumer demand, said that the addition of the Whole Foods makes it easier for community residents to access healthy and affordable foods.

“If you’re living in downtown Tempe, maybe without a car or something, and you want to get to the store, you face some barriers to get there,” Chenarides said. "Now that there’s a Whole Foods there, you can just walk."

She said that the Tempe area isn't fully served when it comes to food accessibility, but the area has a lot of potential. 

Natalie Morris is the coordinator for the Prepped program at ASU, which is a food business incubator program that provides free training for women and minority business owners. Morris said that moving in on the greater area of Phoenix where there is heavy student population is a great strategy for Whole Foods.

“Picking this location, especially site-specific with regard to the apartment site — it’s a really great move for them,” she said.

Morris said that Whole Foods is doing a good job when it comes to appealing to ASU students in regard to sustainability, but the cost factor could be a drawback. 

"It’s going to be difficult for students to weigh the balance between shopping at a more costly point and choosing foods that are whole and fresh at a place like Whole Foods," she said.

Chenarides questioned how well Whole Foods will perform in the summer time, when many students are no longer in the area. 

“The fact that they even entered when there’s somewhat of a seasonality to the population is very curious to me,” she said.

Residents of a nearby neighborhood created a Facebook group, where the group's members often voice strong opposition to both the apartment complex and the Whole Foods addition. 

Stewart, who is also a member of the community Facebook group, said that Whole Foods, which is a traditionally higher-priced grocery store, is not the right choice for the neighborhood.

Stewart said that he would have preferred a more affordable grocery store like Fry's Food and Drug Store, and one that isn't necessarily a speciality store. He also added that some of the price concerns would be lessened if the complex featured a Whole Foods 365 instead, which is a less expensive iteration of the store.

The new grocery store was originally planned as a 365 store, but Whole Foods has since discontinued the concept.

"Since (the project) was approved, we’ve seen the merger of Amazon and Whole Foods, so we really don’t know what this is even going to look like in five years," Stewart said. "It would be nice to have some sort of stability in an area that’s been crying out for a grocery store for so long, for such a long time."

Stewart also said that he’s worried about what might happen to the stores in the surrounding area due to the addition of the development.

He said that an increase in the volume of traffic is one of the main concerns that residents in the area have, as people are now cutting through the neighborhood to avoid traffic on the main streets. 

While he acknowledged that there are two sides to every story, saying that he realizes some people are excited to have a Whole Foods, Stewart said that the neighborhood worries about how large the building is going to be and how the development may increase the cost of living in the area. 

“I personally hope the best of Tempe is still yet to come," he said. "I just hope when it gets here that the people that want to be here are still able to stay here.”

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