Whole Foods Facing an Uphill Battle in Gowanus

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It’s been a tough slog for Whole Foods in Brooklyn already and the organic grocery giant hasn’t even started construction on the 68,000-square-foot market it wants to build at the corner of 3rd Street and 3rd Avenue in Gowanus. The store, which will include 37,000-square-feet of underground retail space, can built as-of-right (once the environmental clean-up is complete), so no approval from community groups is required; that doesn’t mean there’s been a lack opinions voiced. “They’ve wrapped themselves in the cloak of being green and organic, but they’re certainly not acting that way,” said Eric McClure, campaign coordinator of Park Slope Neighbors. “Their talk is not matching their walk.” Another local group, Green Roof Brooklyn, says it supports the arrival of Whole Foods in general but wants to company to cut about 140 parking spaces and add a green roof to help ease pollution in the area. A third group, Friends and Residents of Greater Gowanus, is critical of how the environmental stage of the project has been going, claiming that the process is pushing benzene and other contaminants into the underground water supply. Whole Foods paints the naysayers as a small minority of the thousands of residents who will be served by the store. We’re curious to know how the Brownstoner community feels about this one. Take this quick poll to let us know. Update: As of about 2:15 today, 120 people have taken the poll. The results so far? Over half of respondents say that they are “psyched for the Whole Foods plan as is and think the critics should shut up and get out of the way” while about one third say they “welcome the idea of an upscale market in the area but have concerns about the environmental impact of the project.”
Whole Foods Meets Opposition in Brooklyn [Austin Statesman] GMAP
Whole Foods Poll [Survey Monkey]
Photo by leahlb

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  • These protesters are going to be mainly from the Park Slope Co-Op. While I understand why they are put out, I don’t see how they as a private club (that’s what they are, a private club) get to make decisions for the public, the entire community. And why do people in Gowanus, 4th ave and 5th ave want to trudge up to 7th Avenue? Is there really no room for both stores? Of course there is. The population of Brooklyn is expanding all the time.

    Plus how can we even know what we think, when EVERY development from a big chain store provokes protests in Brooklyn? Walmart we can understand, but Whole Foods and Ikea are responsible employers, and good businesses. Me personally, it makes me very turned off. My eyes glaze over when I hear about yet another protest of anything corporate, by the crunchy granola residents of Brooklyn. And this is coming from a lifelong Liberal. They need to rethink their goals and tactics and pick their fights better.

  • The last thing Brooklyn needs is another big box store with a too small parking lot to make the experience miserable. If they’re going to build the darn thing, build it so it works, and makes for a pleasant experience. Costco anyone? Home Depot? Staples?

  • None of these stores are in residential areas, 10:59am. Costco has a huge parking lot. I love Costco. Where do we buy these things, if the residents of Brooklyn won’t let people build them? Is this a tyranny of those who own cars, who can easily drive out to the suburbs on shopping errands, over those who have to use public transportation and would love to have at least SOME diversity of shopping choices in their neighborhood? I’m frustrated by the limited stock in the health food stores, for a community like Park Slope. It doesn’t make sense not to have a larger, better grocery for shoppers here. Not everyone owns a car and can drive to Red Hook’s Fairway every week, you know.

  • say what you will about the protesters, but if they don’t speak up, these giant corporations will take advantage. i went into the new whole foods on bowery the other day and really felt that the company has strayed from its core principles. it was just like any other giant, excessive supermarket. i didn’t see much environmental about it: excessive packaging, nothing in bulk, not many local foods.

    whole foods should set an example with its brooklyn store and build a totally green building. say what you will about the park slope food co-op, but at least they haven’t given up on what they believe. it may be what the first poster calls a private club, but anyone can join. it’s not exclusive.

  • The Park Slope Food Coop is not a club. It’s a coop. Anyone can join.

    The real issue about the Whole foods is that it will increase traffic and congestion, which is a valid concern. I don’t have any issue with Whole foods as a grocery store, in fact, I welcome it. However if it’s set up in such a way which increases traffic, I think something needs to be done to alleviate it. So I don’t have a problem with the community becoming involved in order to have the best situation possible.

  • No evidence whatsoever that the protesters are from the co-op. Plus it really doesn’t make any sense that they would be. There’s plenty of organic markets in the Slope (including one literally half a block from the co-op.) Another one – and an expensive one at that – is hardly an issue in that regard.

    The co-op may be members only, but that’s hardly restrictive if they’d let someone like me join ūüėČ

    I think the area needs something. Peferably an environmentally sound, non-congestion-creating something.

  • I think the addition of Whole Foods to Brooklyn is a major coup. I would rather welcome them then argue over a few parking places which i feel will be much needed. Certainly a green roof is a nice idea but i know that unless the architect planned for and accounted for the considerable weight in the original design then retrofitting a green roof may not be a practical design addition. Does anyone know the answer?

  • i’ve given up on whole foods anyway. it’s way too overpriced, and as someone said, not especially green or really anything special anymore. it’s a glorified safeway.

    i know there are a lot of trader joe’s haters out there, but i would much prefer one of those up here near 7th avenue. they would do so well. we need a good small-ish store that keeps with the neighborhood and is walkable in my opinion.

    whole foods is a destination for those with cars. i won’t be walking down there very often, if at all…nor will most of us that live up near 6th, 7th, 8th, which is where the concentration of park slope residents live.

    give us something good that we can walk to.

    trader joe’s in the 7th ave key food spot would be ideal.

  • If FROGG claims that an environmental hazard has been created, it needs to address that to the State DEC. My experience is that DEC takes their job very seriously.

  • Pietro, no store is going to stock what their customers don’t want. The way Whole Foods got bigger and more upscale was by demand of their customers. I love the upscale products. I don’t fill my entire basket with them, but getting one as a treat is fun. What’s wrong with having fun? One doesn’t need to live an ascetic life to be a concerned, responsible citizen. Suggesting that a store stock products in order to dictate moral values to people? Kinda creepy.

    Comparing stores in Park Slope and what they offer – PS stores don’t offer NEARLY enough supplements and vitamins and body/beauty care products. That’s what Whole Foods offers that we need so much more of. There are a couple particular supplements I’ve taken for years and years, that I could so easily find in CA, that I now have to order online, or travel 40 minutes into Manhattan to buy at the Whole Foods now. Which stinks. These are not rare, hard to find supplement brands either. It’s one of the biggest brands. But Back to the Land in PS only stocks like one of their products not all of them. There’s no reason we shouldn’t have access a large inventory of vitamins and supplements in Brooklyn. It’s ridiculous.

  • I wanted to add to my comments at 11:43am, that this is what capitalism is all about. If the health food stores in Park Slope are so afraid of the competition, then maybe they should have done more to expand and improve these last few years. There is this bizarre attitude in this kind of store, that you find in no other, that the consumers are required to be supportive no matter what. Which is a holdover from the 70’s when these stores first started appearing, but it’s 30 years later and they need to accept they will have to compete with one another. Example – I’ve asked many times for them to stock the supplement I need that I’ve taken for years and they’ve never done it. The guy has never even written it down. They have attitude. And not because I’m being rude. So why should customers be loyal to that? They’re very entitled, and it’s annoying.

  • i really welcome the addition of whole foods, but i also agree that protests can be a positive way of ensuring that companies work with the concerns of the neighborhood. as far as i understand it, the protesters aren’t trying to keep whole foods out, they’re trying to get the company to build a greener store with enough parking. good for them.

    does anyone know the fate and the weird & beautiful lonely old building on the property? will whole foods save it or tear it down?

  • Whole Foods will never open here – it is a toxic waste dump and the $ to fix it is just too high. Toll Brothers and Boylemgreen should have seen the writing on the wall – Gowanus is good for industry and that’s about it.(which btw isnt bad)

  • What exactly is the “undergound water supply”? To whom is the water supplied and whats it used for?

  • Whole Foods may be coming to Park Slope (although I always thought that location was actually Gowanus…), but that doesn’t mean they exist only to serve Park Slope. I live across the park and would be delighted to drive over to Whole Foods when it opens. Yes, I’d be mighty impressed if they built green, but I also would like ample parking… I’m shopping for a large family and have to transport a lot of groceries.

    Better yet – any update on the possibility of Trader Joe’s coming to Church Avenue?

  • I am a supporter of Whole Foods. There isn’t a decent supermarket anywhere near the vicinity that one can find quality food. I have to ride the subway to manhattan just to get fois gras and caviar. You’re not going to find that at the Pathmark or Key Food.

  • Sorry to hear u have to shop and ride subway for the fois gras. I just have my driver take my cook on such errands.

  • Surprise, surprise, the mighty FROGG is against the project. Oooh, that’ll kill it. Why don’t they just rename the group Coalition to Keep Gowanus Sleazy and Abandoned? Or Neighbors Aligned to Bring Back the Early Twentieth Century? If Whole Foods can clean it up enough to open a grocery, great; if not, too bad; but what in God’s name is so bad about trying to clean up a toxic dump?

    I’m a co-op member and will shop there, albeit only occasionally. As for driving, hey, whatever they can do to make it pedestrian-friendly is fine by me. But give me a break–any Brooklyn car driver making an occasional short drive to shop is having FAR less impact on the environment than any suburbanite. Talk about the narcissism of small differences.

    BTW, Brownstoner, all due respect, your survey choices are kind of silly. The pro- and anti- choices both make the respondent sound unhinged.

  • The typical reason for opposing parking spaces is the belief that they will induce vehicular traffic. However, there is another side of the coin: lack of adequate parking will result in drivers circling around looking for on-street parking spaces, thus creating even more traffic. Clearly Whole Foods’ business model for this location anticipates many patrons from outside the immediate neighborhood (similar to Fairway) so people will be driving there in any event. It is better that there be a place for them to park when they get there. I wonder if behind some of the protests is not the Co-op which probably would not be affected much but rather Fairway, which stands to be a great deal.

    All that said, I do support a green roof and/or some other form of on-site stormwater detention, as well as a responsible environmental cleanup, and maybe the opposition will help achieve that.

  • How come the co op on Union does not have a green roof? And those trucks delivering their food is polluting the hood, hey the food coop should have their food delivered by horse. and recycle the horse crap while your at it and all the methane created by manure is heating up the planet, we are doomed

  • Most food co-op people are for the Whole Foods. Membership levels are currently too high as it is, and huge numbers of the wealthiest will undoubtedly leave the co-op to go to whole foods instead.

    AS for Anon 12:51 – The Food Co-op already purchases energy credits. A green roof would be nice, but it is not usually feasible to modify and existing building, especially one that is rather small.

  • Well, Whole Foods stock price has been taking a serious beating lately. Their equity rating is in the toilette and the cost of new stores coming on line has destroyed their bottom line.

    Community opponents just need to increase the store’s opening and WF might abandoned the site.

  • Why would anyone want to stop this store from opening? People aren’t going to go out and buy a car because Whole Foods is just too far to walk to. I mean, get a grip people. If you don’t like Whole Foods, shop elsewhere.

  • I have yet to read ANYTHING from ANY community-based organization flatly opposing the construction of a Whole Foods market in Gowanus. Can any of the posters making this accusation point me to such a statement? No — what community-based groups are doing is holding Whole Foods accountable on environmental issues.

    I find it astonishing that anyone would object to demanding that Whole Foods properly & safely clean up the brown field they are going to be building on. Why wouldn’t you want that?

    The posts claiming that the Park Slope Food Coop is somehow the force behind groups expressing concern about the development of the Whole Foods site are truly off the wall. The PSFC is a thriving community institution of over 30 years standing, where you can buy organic for the same price or less than what you’ll pay for non-organic anywhere else. The opening of the high-end/organic grocery store Union Market 1/2 block away from the Coop has not impacted PSFC in the slightest, nor has Fairway. Whole Foods is just as over-priced as Union Market. I don’t think PSFC is going to suffer.

  • The WF site has been industrial for, what 150 years or so?
    Groundwater? We in the rest of Brooklyn get ours from the Catskills, does anyone in Gowanus use groundwater from a backyard well?

    What’s so wrong with a company cleaning up a brownfield and putting it to better use, and employing people from the city to staff it when it’s done?
    And folks should get off their unrealistic high horses. People will drive to this Whole Foods from a wide swath of Brooklyn, to work or to shop.
    P.S. some have written that the co-op is not only a club but in fact it’s a cult.
    FYI the corner building at 3rd and 3rd will be refurbished, not torn down.

    Get with the program, you bunch of AJ Soprano-like whiners.
    Redirect the fight against something really stupid, like Atlantic Yards in its current form.

  • 12:35: that’s a joke, right? I wouldn’t know which stores carry those items because I’m a vegetarian, but if Whole Foods carries Foie Gras, they should give up trying to pretend they are green. Not that it harms the environment per se, but last time I checked, torturing geese isn’t isn’t too enviro friendly.

  • Are people who post in comments actually unable to read? Nobody said anything was wrong with Whole Foods being built. Community groups act as a balance to large corporations and a very complaisant city government. Have you noticed that nobody but community-based groups have been fighting to make sure developers do the right thing? Honestly! Why is it “unrealistic” to make demands of developers? Developers are out to maximize benefit to themselves. In the old days, government was there to represent the common good. But we have a completely complicit and/or complaisant city government when it comes to development, so it has fallen to community groups to represent the common good.

    Once again — it isn’t a matter of halting the construction of Whole FOods, but of negotiating with the developer to get the best possible plan that takes community needs and environmental issues into full consideration.

    Once again — what, precisely, is wrong with that???

  • ANd as for the poster who cannot seem to find foie gras in Park SLope — try Blue Apron.

  • SPer:

    The urgent matters of public interest the “community groups” (which is not the same as saying they represent the majority of community opinion) are fighting for are:

    1. Creating a green roof at a site that was formerly a brownfield. Why is a green roof any more urgent here than at, say, any new condo development? Why not petition them? The fact that they choose to make it an issue here, and only here, tells me they are hostile to the very idea of the Whole Foods, even if it would be bad PR to say that explicitly.

    2. Compelling Whole Foods to reduce parking in the belief that, given too much parking, shoppers will make the “wrong” choice and must be compelled to make the “right” one.

  • I’m perfectly happy to see Whole Foods come to Brooklyn. But it’s really too far for many PS shoppers who are on foot and faced with carting heavy groceries several long blocks (certainly anyone who lives east of 5th Ave). And what about the traffic impact? So many of the big new developments in Brooklyn depend on car access, viz IKEA, Fairway (basically anything that gets built in Red Hook), Whole Foods etc. It really shows up a lack of a basic urban plan for our borough — and I’m not talking about the kind of “plan” that subsidizes big developers to erect luxury condo towers downtown. Bloomberg and Markowitz should be discussing an expansion of public transportation, including ideas like an electric trolley line between RH and PS. Don’t tell me this is quixotic. The only reason NYC’s economy is so robust is because it is still relatively easy to move millions of workers and residents around on a daily basis.

  • i agree wholeheartedly, NeoGrec.

    while i don’t oppose the whole foods, i can’t imagine how putting it in one of the already established brooklyn pedestrian neighborhoods wouldn’t have made more sense.

    you’ll notice in manhattan they are in columbus circle, chelsea and union square.

    not inwood, battery park or 7th and ave. D.

  • I used to want to retire to Scarsdale but with the corporate owned stores moving into Brooklyn, now I won’t have to! Thanks hipster wannabes!

  • Anon at 3:41:

    On the parking issue — I think what NeoGrec said deserves to be reposted:

    “So many of the big new developments in Brooklyn depend on car access, viz IKEA, Fairway (basically anything that gets built in Red Hook), Whole Foods etc. It really shows up a lack of a basic urban plan for our borough — and I’m not talking about the kind of “plan” that subsidizes big developers to erect luxury condo towers downtown. Bloomberg and Markowitz should be discussing an expansion of public transportation, including ideas like an electric trolley line between RH and PS. Don’t tell me this is quixotic. The only reason NYC’s economy is so robust is because it is still relatively easy to move millions of workers and residents around on a daily basis.”

    Also, the parking issue isn’t a matter of “compelling people to make the ‘right’ choice — as if some kind of essential freedom is being taken away by a nanny government! Please! This is a very childish argument. We have a serious problem with air quality and traffic in this city. Every big development project that is going to increase traffic needs to be carefully evaluated.

    As for the organization pushing for a green roof — well why the hell not? Why does this mean being hostile to the building of Whole Foods altogether? I really don’t understand your argument. I haven’t looked into the green roof issue particularly, but I can imagine why it would make sense to push for a green roof on a store that’s going to have thousands and thousands of square feet — isn’t that exactly the sort of roof where there are sufficient economies of scale to make it worthwhile? I don’t understand why the fact that this group hasn’t petitioned condo tower developers for a green roof makes their petition of Whole Foods illegitimate. I can well imagine why the first wouldn’t make sense but the second would.

    Community groups should have a place at the table in such essential matters as zoning and development. The fact that these groups are not elected is another silly argument of yours. Did someone elect the developer? Or — as I pointed out in an earlier post — are we supposed to put the fate of our neighborhoods in the hands of the Building Department? That part of city government that has proved incapable of standing for the public interest? Or perhaps the City Planning Commission? That rubber-stamped AY?

    Your belief that the efforts of local groups to modify development projects are illegitimate is equivalent to being “anti-development” or trying to stop anything from being built is symptomatic of terrible short-sightedness and ignorance that is all over the comments section of this blog.

  • must preview.

    Meant to say that arguing that the efforts to modify development projects are equivalent to trying to stop them altogether and thus being against anything being built is foolish. By that logic, nobody should ever say anything negative at all about development projects. We should just smile and say thank you giant corporation for bringing us this wonderful store?

  • fyi. the paper’s name is Austin American-Statesman

  • Ya, sure!! < <>>

    The Whole Foods site will only be cleaned to a standard for it’s M2 zoning designation. The company stated that to cleanup the site further is too costly and as stated that as long as they “cap” the contimination under the store, those using the store will be protected from them.

    The language of “cleanup” is being missed used for this brownfield. There is no “cleaning” going on here. The plan is to leave the polution in the ground where it will continue to be moved around by ground water and tide currents.

  • It’s not WF’s job to completely bare the burden of 150 years worth of contamination. The state should really be doing that out of simple obligation to Brooklyn residents.

  • How the FUCK is Whole Foods in Brooklyn a “coup”? That’s a pretty unique amenity in this country, & city… CELEBRATE!!

    Ya’ll should look into the CORRUPTION $$$ that kicked out Red Hook Crushers too, so Whole Foods could locate nearby.

    You “leafy block” asswipes may not care where the UNLICENSED contractors who do your goddamn renovations drop that crap but those of who suffer YOUR garbage in the streets do.

    Wake up already, goddamnit. Whole Foods = Wal Mart (at least Costco are quasi-lefties believe it or not.)

    CoupCoup
    South Brooklyn

  • I don’t know why Park Slopers really care about Whole Foods being here or not. You have plenty of choices in supermarkets – organic or not. It’s those of us in Carroll Gardens (where it’s actually being built) who will benefit most from Whole Foods. Since the Key Food (which was a disgusting store) closed on Court Street & 2nd Place, there is NO supermarket in Carroll Gardens. We have no choice but to drive to Pathmark or Fairway.

    At least with Whole Foods, people can walk across 3rd Street and get groceries. I welcome a decent supermarket with good quality merchandise.

    As for the parking and traffic issues, people, have you been to 3rd Avenue and 3rd Street? It’s a major thoroughfare in an industrial/commercial area. Come on! I’d rather have grocery trucks unloading in a parking lot on 3rd Avenue, than double parking on Union Street in front of the Food Co-op.

  • As a Carroll Gardens resident I pretty much agree with BeReasonable. However, I am very concerned about a store who touts fresh, healthy , wholesome foods built over contaminated soil. I lived here all my life and that area was always considered hopeless…..has it all suddenly disappeared…..has WF found a way to dispose of it….I wonder….I wonder if I could enjoy food that is stored in such a place. I’d like to know more>

  • As a Carroll Gardens resident I pretty much agree with BeReasonable. However, I am very concerned about a store who touts fresh, healthy , wholesome foods built over contaminated soil. I lived here all my life and that area was always considered hopeless…..has it all suddenly disappeared…..has WF found a way to dispose of it….I wonder….I wonder if I could enjoy food that is stored in such a place. I’d like to know more>

  • Sper,

    There’s nothing wrong with advocating for a better Whole Foods design. It’s a free country.

    Just the same, it’s a free country and the developer can build whatever the hell he likes, with or without community input. Of course, WF wants to build the best store for the lowest cost – they’re in business to make money.

  • It’s not just the contaminated soil!

    Have any of you actually seen what comes out of the Park Slope sewage overflows located near the Whole Foods site? The DEP may have a plan to reduce sewage flow from the Baltic St CSO, but they aren’t doing a thing about the crap dumped from Park Slope pipes.

    Come on down and take in the aroma of the canal near Whole Foods site. Seems that Whole Foods big marketing idea here is to attract the likes of Shrek and Fiona to the swamp-of-all-swamps. Who else would enjoy the experience of buying organic food while taking in the air and sites of the toilet contents floating by. (At least Fairway has a real river out their door.)

  • But WF’s isn’t building the most cost effecient building as one writer states. Their “cellar” retail space, over 60,000 sq.ft. will be very costly to construct inside the pond and will most likely cause many construction delays as they work to keep the water out of the cellar pond.

    And let’s not forget that the tax payers are covering for this.