Amid a flurry of employees making last minute adjustments to store shelves, rearranging rows of fresh produce, putting ice over an array of seafood, and firing up the pizza oven, Whole Foods Market opened Tuesday morning at their newest location at 1700 Duke St.
"I'm very glad this store has finally opened so we can get traffic on Duke Street moving again. Now citizens have no reason to call my office about the backups on Duke Street due to the construction," said Mayor William D. Euille in welcoming the environmentally-oriented grocery chain to the city.
"It's an honor to have you here and I can assure you that our residents will be here in full force. I know I will because I love to eat. That's why I exercise," Euille said from the podium where he was joined by Vice Mayor Redella "Del" Pepper and City Councilman Ludwig Gaines.
Old Town's Whole Foods Market is actually a relocation from Annandale where they had been in the Pinecrest Shopping Center. That store is now closed with most employees, including the new store's manager, Rick DeFilippes, relocating to the Alexandria site.
"We are very excited about being in Alexandria and intend to continue our tradition of community involvement," said Ken Meyer, regional president, Whole Foods Markets.
That commitment was reinforced by DeFilippes who announced that the store's first five percent day will be this Saturday with Whole Foods donating five percent of all purchases to The Scholarship Fund of Alexandria.
"This is a real dream come true for me to be here in Old Town Alexandria," DeFilippes said.
The 45,000-square-foot store occupies the first floor of a mixed use building that has three floors of condominium residences above. Two underground parking levels provide space for 244 shopper vehicles, according to Sarah Kenney, public relations for Whole Foods.
Underground parking facilities are accessed by a gated entrance on Holland Lane. Parking for future condominium residents is located on the lower level of the two story garage. Whole Foods shoppers are provided two hours of free parking, according to Kenney.
AS ONE OF 175 of the Austin, Texas company's stores nationally, Whole Foods Market Old Town employs a work force of 275 split between part-time and full-time employees. "However, the majority of our staff is full-time and worked at the Little River store," Kenney said.
The store also contains a bakery, oven fired pizza kitchen, gourmet kitchen, and a restaurant seating area for approximately 50 people along the Duke Street window wall. "There is an outdoor seating for another 30 people," Kenney said. Tables and chairs were available Tuesday at the Duke Street/Holland Lane corner.
Entering the market customers find themselves in the fruit and produce area where select items of fruit have been sliced in half to display their freshness, according to Kenney. At the rear of the store is the seafood and meat area with a sushi bar.
A salad bar at the far end by the Duke Street Bistro and Old Town Pizza offers both standard salad offerings and what Kenney referred to as a "platter bar." The salad bar is filled with a selection of fresh vegetables and other items for those who want to create an entire meal. Both are priced at $6.99 per pound.
The only thing missing for the opening was their beer and wine selections. In that area the shelves were still empty. "We hope to get our liquor license approval today so those shelves will be full by the weekend," she said.
Kenney was quick to point out, "Not everything we sell is organic. That's a misnomer. But, everything we sell is all natural."
She also emphasized that in the produce area particularly items are designated according to where they comes from. "Many of our customers want to know that for political, religious or environmental reasons," Kenney said.
As customers filled the aisles following the grand opening ceremonies the biggest challenge ahead may not be in marketing the new store but in access to their new location. Construction on the condos is still underway and a left hand turn onto Holland Avenue from Duke Street has always been a driving challenge.