NEW YORK — Whole Foods Market's newest store here has several features its three other Manhattan locations lack, including a humidity-controlled cheese cave, a pie shop and a Belgian-style french fries station.
What the Lower East Side store seemed to lack in its first week of business, however, were the throngs of customers that the chain's locations in Chelsea, Columbus Circle and Union Square attract on a daily basis.
The company declined to comment to SN on the location, which at 71,000 square feet is Manhattan's largest supermarket. Observations by SN and conversations with shoppers indicate that the store is not yet drawing the crowds that the other Manhattan stores have become famous for in New York.
“The volume might be kind of light, but I think it does take some time to get some word of mouth,” said Greg Badishkanian, an analyst with Citigroup Smith Barney, New York. “I think it's a great store.”
He suggested that the location could help ease some of the pressures from overcrowding at the nearest Whole Foods store in Union Square, which opened about a mile away in 2005. At that store, customers have been known to abandon full shopping carts on the sales floor because the lines at the registers were too long.
“Union Square, I think, has hit capacity,” Badishkanian said. “This should help with some of the issues they have had there.”
One site-selection consultant suggested the newest store may also have more favorable terms on its lease because of its relatively remote location.
“If it's not as expensive to be there, it can still work out,” said Matthew Casey of Matthew P. Casey & Associates, Clark, N.J., adding that the increased density in Manhattan also improves the company's overall operating costs for the area for such expenses as delivery and advertising.
The store is located in an apartment building in an up-and-coming neighborhood undergoing a commercial and residential renaissance, and is close to both the high-income loft dwellers of SoHo and the lower-income residents of Alphabet City.
Unlike the Union Square and Columbus Circle Whole Foods locations, however, the newest Manhattan store is not located near a major transit hub. That may change over the coming years, however, as the city proceeds with plans to build a new subway line under Manhattan's Second Avenue, which could place a stop half a block from the store.
The two-level Whole Foods has what amounts to a traditional supermarket on the ground floor, while the second floor is divided into a series of departments connected by a bridge that spans the middle of the space and allows views of the activity below. The upstairs sections include an Italian restaurant; a small clothing department featuring hemp T-shirts and other casual wear; a lifestyle department offering yoga mats, relaxation CDs and related items; an HBC section; and a demonstration kitchen for cooking classes.
Other features on the ground floor include a European-style fromagerie, where exclusive, aged cheeses can be cut to order; several salad bars for desserts and hot and cold foods; a gelato station; a sandwich shop; a pizza oven; and a selection of locally made pickles. Customers enter through the produce department, and can either proceed to the right through fish and meat departments, or stay to the left and pass the floral and dry grocery areas before the prepared-foods offerings and bakery.