Splashy New North Evanston Whole Foods Goes to 11


(above): Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Ald. Jane Grover, and Whole Foods staff break bread, a company tradition, at the grand opening of the new store at 2748 Green Bay Rd.

A crowd of several hundred queued up before 9 AM today, to the accompaniment of speeches, free coffee from a vintage bus, and a rock band, for the grand opening of the newest Whole Foods grocery. While some were no doubt drawn by the offer of gift cards and free samples, the store, for many others, helps fill a void left when the Dominick's chain shuttered its longstanding store on the same location at 2748 N. Green Bay Rd. two years ago. That closing benefited the Jewel in Wilmette just under a half-mile north, but left the community, albeit served by some nice small stores such as Foodstuffs or Fresh Foods, without a single large full-service grocery in Evanston north of Emerson.

The newest Whole Foods is a stunning state-of-the-art store that will no doubt attract shoppers from a wide area. Larger than the chain's other two Evanston stores (on Chicago Avenue) combined, the Green Bay store not only showcases the familiar Whole Foods offerings of organic and natural foods and household items, but features a wine bar (above), and a cafe that doubles as a taproom featuring a large selection of craft beers. City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz believes that the Evanston store, said by some to have cost $5 million to construct, incorporated virtually every possible bell and whistle featured anywhere in the Whole Foods family.

The interior design, despite the large size of the store, manages to create intimacy due to the extensive use of wood, separate areas for specialty shopping or snacking, and an overall "crunchy" feel (blackboards, vintage-looking carts and bins) not unlike the cachet of some Trader Joe's shops. Well-lit and with intelligent and attractive signage, the store seemed easy to get around, and items were extremely well-displayed, as seen above and below.

Grocery stores are unique retail establishments. Visited weekly or more by their regular customers, more often than most stores, they often develop loyal followings. Altho to a visitor from a foreign country Jewel and the old Dominick's might seem indistinguishable, each had its adherents, many of whom felt about the other store the way Cubs and Sox fans feel about the other team. So the Dominick's departure was a big loss for the neighborhood, thousands of whom could bike or walk there if they chose. 

Can the new Whole Foods  win the hearts and minds of the old Dom's shoppers? While this new store is as glamorous as Taylor Swift, Whole Foods, judging by the comments of some today, has an image of cost comparable to what it must be like to date the pop star. The pricetag of a cartload of $30/lb. cheeses and mouth-watering specialty prepared goods certainly can stack up in a hurry. But Whole Foods, if one shops carefully, has many moderately-priced goods, as well as consumer-friendly sales and coupons, and just a glance around the store showed me a number of items where one would pay no more than anywhere else.

(above): The bakery case at the new Whole Foods. The Key lime tart shown at botttom, which looks like it would serve 2 to 4, is $11. (below): six different kinds of organic canned beans, priced from $1.99 to $3.99.

The new store is likely to be a rousing success. Although this is the 16th suburban store for the chain, there are none anywhere else on the North Shore along the lakefront, and it will be the closest Whole Foods not only for over 15,000 Evanstonians, but for that many again in neighboring communities, many of considerable affluence. Many shoppers are now comfortable with hitting one store for everyday goods but another for hard-to-find items. This store will also appeal to the generally progressive philosophy of Evanston with its conspicuous emphasis on foods that are natural, organic, non-GMO, fair trade, or all of the above. A store sign boasted "the largest selection of of foods with the fewest ingredients." An increasing number of consumers are willing to pay a little more for what they perceive as healthier and/or ethical foods, and the selection does not get much broader anywhere in the region. Despite occasional controversy, the company generally has an image of a corporate citizen that tries. Signage such as the above claims support for fair trade, for local sourcing, and other good stuff; today's event had a 1% set-aside for the Evanston Public Library. The 260-some jobs created by the opening of this store, altho non-union, pay at $11/hour and up, with benefits that one employee described to me as "excellent." The store is well-prepared for the shift to no-plastic-bags. Overall, the do-gooder cachet is likely to appeal to this community.

Finally, there are the bars. Yes, bars plural. Besides the wine tasting room with a well-picked selection, the large cafe (right and below), with much more room to munch or quaff than at the downtown store, appeared to feature 20 different draft, craft selections. It's at first hard to get a head around what market would say, "Hey, let's go over to the grocery store for a brewski." And interrupting canteloupe-thumping to relax with a glass of pinot -- grocery shopping can be so exhausting, after all -- seems like a fantasy from Desperate Housewives. But apparently it works in some other Whole Foods stores. With north Evanston still having a dearth of watering holes, it's not impossible the site will become a meetup for small groups. Either that, or be suspicious if your spouse suddenly seems a little too eager to run out for "milk and bread." :)

Overall, the new Whole Foods on Green Bay is an extremely welcome piece of economic development for Evanston that is likely to generate a decent piece of tax revenues, complementing more than competing with existing establishments, while no doubt adding some local jobs and revenue by bringing in customers and workers from outside the city. And, as places to shop go, you'd have no choice but to describe it as tasteful.