S.J. Collins Enterprises

Whole Foods will offer Fort Myers experience

Now that Whole Foods has announced it's coming to Daniels Parkway and Six Mile Cypress with an opening target of fall 2017, what's next?

A long getting-to-know you period, says Jeff Garrison, who's Atlanta firm S.J. Collins Enterprises has built seven of the stores and has seven more on the drawing table.

While Garrison is already vetting concept plans for the Fort Myers market with Lee County planners, a Whole Foods consumer detective of sorts will be embedding in the community to get what makes Fort Myers, well, Fort Myers.

"They spend a year learning what makes this market unique, and they represent that in the build-out, Garrison said.

For example, one of his new builds in Newport News, a Virginia seaport, "they rehabbed an old ship and made it a coffee bar. For Charlottesville, they took some of the old University of Virginia basketball court and put it in the chip aisle.

Although the company will be able to leverage the supply chain of its Naples store, "when you walk in, you'll know this is Fort Myers," Garrison said.

With Hammond Stadium in the neighborhood, there could be a baseball theme in our future.

What's for lunch?

One thing the developer expects Whole Foods will offer in its Fort Myers location is a larger-than-life-sized selection of prepared foods.

The site in the heart of an employment center, accessible to Interstate 75 commuters, means a stream of daytime shoppers eager for gourmet lunch and convenience items.

While many Fort Myers customers who went to Naples are expected to use the new store, Whole Foods doesn't expect a downside.

"The primary customer is about a 16-minute drive away, and will shop there twice a week." Garrison said.

Real estate values may rise

A 2007 Johnson Reid study found that a specialty grocer "will increase surrounding home prices by an average of 17.5 percent."

Whole Foods looks for high levels of education rather than income when it chooses a location. After years scouting Fort Myers sites that didn't pan out, the stars aligned next to Brookshire, an older, solidly middle-class community whose homeowner's association had concerns.

Whole Foods worked with the HOA to soften the commercial effect with landscaping and rezone the site to attract small-scale, high-end businesses.

"We want the best in class of all the retail categories," said Garrison, for good reason. The Daniels Corridor has close to 40 communities, some with homes selling in the millions of dollars.

He also expects Whole Foods to wave its own upscaling wand over the real estate market through something called "the Whole Foods effect." The term, which gets about 7 million Google hits, went viral after the Johnson Reid study.

Could that attract another market to Fort Myers, one readers favored equally with Whole Foods in a Thursday News-Press poll?

"It's nice to be wanted, but at this time it's not in our two-year plan to open a location in Fort Myers," Trader Joe's PR Director Alison Mochizuki said.

Small whole foods grocer not too worried

The choice and theatrics of a whole foods giant is impossible for small markets like Mother Earth to compete with, and that, says one store manager, might be a good thing.

"Am I concerned? A little, because I think Whole Foods offers an interesting experience," said Kathy Pavlick at Mother Earth Natural Foods' Colonial Crossings location. "They have freezer doors galore, where we have six."

But Pavlick thinks her store has a personal, neighborhood feel her customers want. And because each of Mother Earth's five Fort Myers location has one manager rather than many, it can order new items on a whim rather than running decisions up a corporate chain of command, Pavlick said.

"I really don't think it will have an effect," said the manager. "They're competing with the bigger markets like Publix. I read in an industry magazine that small stores haven't suffered."

AT A GLANCE: WHOLE FOODS

Here are five things we can tell you about Whole Foods Market:

1. History: Whole Foods Market was founded in 1990 in Austin, Texas. The company boasts 433 stores, and its sales in 2014 amounted to $14.2 billion. It employs 91,000 people, and the average pay for full-time employees was $19.16 per hour last year. Twenty-four stores currently operate in Florida, and five – including Fort Myers – are in the development stage.

2. Younger demographic: In June, Whole Foods announced plans to open "365 by Whole Foods Market," aiming for convenience while offering low prices on natural and organic products.

3. Alcohol: Whole Foods' location in Naples features a bar that serves beer and wine, right inside the grocery store. More than 120 stores nationwide feature a bar.

4. Beer to bread: Anne Reed, a food writer for The News-Press, just wrote a story about spent grains from Funky Buddha Brewery being upcycled into a new sourdough bread at Whole Foods.

5. Competition: Whole Foods' chief national competitor in the natural foods arena is Trader Joe's, which has a location in Naples, but not Fort Myers. Publix also has expanded its line of Greenwise products, offering organic food and championing the idea of sustainable living. Some Publix stores accept Whole Foods' store-issued coupons because they consider the business as a competitor. Publix is launching a series of expansions in Florida.