I live in a small mountain town -- population 3,836 -- but it's not that small. It's part of a larger valley with tourist destinations at both ends and a decent-sized population that likes to think of themselves as somewhat cosmopolitan. Thus it is with great fanfare that we recently welcomed to the valley our very own Whole Foods Market.
When I tell you the anticipation had been building for years, I am absolutely not kidding. This project has been on the books since woolly mammoths roamed our valley. When construction finally began, it proceeded as far as the foundation. Then the recession hit, and work stalled. For three or four years, we were left with a gaping concrete hole in the ground, a sad memorial to our once-proud dreams.
Sure, we still had a Wendy's and a really good grocery store with a Starbucks in it, but lots of hick towns have one fast-food joint, and everywhere in the world has a Starbucks 20 feet away. Square burgers and Frappuccinos weren't going to put us on the map. We needed something big, and we needed something politically correct and hip as all get out. We needed Whole Foods.
Construction finally resumed about two years ago, and the reaction around here has been nothing short of crazy. Literally. Our local grocery store tried to up the ante by putting in an antipasto bar and then went and did the oddest thing it could do. It moved everything in the store around, confusing the hell out of us regular customers and causing much griping. It's clear that our extant market was fearing for its life.
As a nominal member of the press -- and at the behest of my very excited wife -- I finagled us a tour of the Whole Foods two days before it opened. I was fully prepared to be my usual curmudgeonly cynic, as I am about anything the least bit trendy, and I already resented Whole Foods for driving the local grocer insane. Plus, I was not particularly thrilled about the prospect of my wife at a place nicknamed "Whole Paycheck" (her paycheck, by the way, most of the time).
I drove us to the press tour, donned my best Ebenezer Scrooge frown, loaded up my vocabulary with bah-humbugs and walked on in. I was prepared to find everything a little too snobby for me, thank you, seeing as I had heretofore paid no attention to my food and where it comes from, and I was looking for reasons to dislike the place.
We were greeted at the door by a very nice PR lady, a local of some years. The third person I saw was an old friend who was helping another local sell facial products. Then I ran into another friend and former co-worker who was helping a company from my town sell tea.
The next person I encountered was a local gal who'd found love and started selling soup since giving up on the real estate game. Moments later, I was surprised at the deli counter by a friend who was ecstatic about her new job and confirmed the rumor that the training was really fun.
All around the store, there were pictures of the local vendors -- "local" being defined by a Whole Foods manager as a radius of 400 miles -- and I knew quite a few of them. Apparently, they'd been making great products for years, and now they finally had a way of getting them out there for everyone to see.
I listened with as jaded an ear as I could to the PR lady as she explained Whole Foods' conscientious and environmental policies regarding where its food comes from and how it's produced, but I was having a hard time finding a nit to pick.
Still, I feared the "Whole Paycheck" thing so much that I could almost have remained unconvinced. But then the guy at the butcher counter explained that I could get my hyper-fresh steaks and chicken breasts thrown into some fresh marinade for free, and that sold me. No, they wouldn't be as cheap as the unmarinated and possibly unethically treated ones I was used to, but as they say, quality has its price.
So to my local grocery store, for which I think there is still plenty of business, I say good luck. But you're going to have to put everything back where it's supposed to be, pronto, and it looks like you're going to have to up the ante some more. Me too, evidently, if I think I'm going to pay for this.
I'm Todd Hartley, and I approved this free advertising. To read more or leave a comment, please visit zerobudget.net.
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