Whole Foods is hopeful in bankrupt Detroit

An executive with the supermarket chain says he has 'a good feeling' about the store that opened June 5 in the economically strapped city.

By Julie K Balise Jul 19, 2013 4:10PM

Detroit is bankrupt, but at least its residents have a place to pick up organic produce, fair-trade coffee, and the latest in imitation meats.


Walter Robb, a co-executive with Whole Foods Market (WFM), sounded optimistic about the high-end grocer's recently-opened store in an interview with Bloomberg. The report was presumably produced before the city filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection Thursday.


Robb said he is an "unabashed capitalist" who believes in business and making money.


"I love this project," he said. "I have no idea how it's going turn out, but I have a good feeling about it."

Whole Foods' Detroit location opened on June 5 after years of planning and, according to the report, almost $5 million in incentives from the city and state. It is located in the fast-growing Midtown neighborhood, which includes a large college-educated, higher-income population.


The report included a glimpse at Detroit's less fortunate areas, where Whole Foods Market executive operations coordinator Red Elk Banks pointed to graffiti and empty lots.


"It's a moment when you challenge yourself and say our goal coming to Detroit was to make an investment that mattered," he said.


Customers shop in the produce section at the Whole Foods grocery story in Ann Arbor, Michigan
© REBECCA COOK/Newscom/RTRWhole Foods Market Detroit is part of a three-store pilot to test lower-priced stores. The other stores are coming to New Orleans and Chicago's South Side next year. A half-gallon of organic reduced-fat milk goes for $4.39 in Detroit, according to the report, a full dollar less than its price in New York.


The store has hired 97 employees, 72% of whom came from Detroit. It has a Detroit sensibility, with tables made of car hood and checkout lights decorated with Motown records.


Robb has also made a personal commitment to make the store affordable and accessible. He said he was "troubled" that Whole Foods Market was only touching some communities.


"This store here in Detroit is special because it represents the first time we've stepped into a market that we've not really ever served before," Robb said in the report. "This is an 85% black community here."


Whole Foods Market Detroit has been embraced by local officials, according to Bloomberg. George Jackson, president of the Detroit Economic Growth Corporation, called it "more than just a store" to the city.


"It serves as a model for other retailers when they're going through a decision-making process of whether or not to locate in the city of Detroit," he said.


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Jul 19, 2013 4:59PM
4.39 a gallon of milk in Detroit, organic or not,   lol
Jul 19, 2013 10:23PM
Good for them; they have the money to invest, and it brought some jobs there. I hope other companies get in there, too. Maybe some big investor could make loans for small start up businesses there, with input from retired business owners, to advise the prospective owners on setting up and running a business. I would like to see the people of Detroit get back on their feet again. 
Jul 22, 2013 1:46PM
Why are they selling it sheaper in Detroit than NY. Shouldn't every item be the same price regardless of where it is sold. This has bothered me to no end for a while, especially large corpaorate entities. They can sell a bottle of coke for 5 cents in India but is costs $1.75 in the USA. Price fixing based on a countries economic abilities is wrong. One price for all, we should be demanding it.  Just curious, how soon before his economically challenged "community" revolts and starts looting his store. It is Detroit..... Can't wait to here them complaining about $2 dollar organic apples. They will justify their thefts by the stores high prices. Hope they got robocop to guard the produce....
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