The delayed and much-anticipated opening of Whole Foods is two short weeks away with special features, including a 16-tap bar where shoppers can enjoy a after work happy hour between the produce and canned goods.
The store opens at 8 a.m., March 2, after a “Breaking Bread Ceremony” 30 minutes earlier when local officials will welcome the international grocery chain to Northwest Arkansas and two local schools will receive grants for their school gardens. Onyx Coffee and Ozark Natural Bread pastries will be served during the ceremony.
“The Breaking Bread Ceremony represents a new beginning and our entry into a new community,” said Laura Bernold, associate marketing coordinator for the southwest region of Whole Foods.
The first 500 shoppers will receive a Whole Foods bag, she added.
The store has hired about 100 employees, Bernold said. More employees may be hired after the opening, as needed. Salaries are “well above minimum (wage),” she added. The only other Whole Foods store in Arkansas is in Little Rock. The store, at 3425 N. College Ave., has more than 29,000 square feet of shopping area. The store will be open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Fayetteville city officials are ready for the retailer to open shop as the city has invested about $186,000 to install the traffic signal at the entrance of the retail center, re-stripe the roadway and make adjustments for handicap ramps.
Whole Foods has made a $25 million investment in the Fayetteville project and will have an annual payroll of nearly $6 million, according to Steve Clark, CEO of the Fayetteville Chamber of Commerce. Another notable figure is the projected increase in sales taxes the city will collect. A January 2014 report by the Whole Foods company indicated their stores on average generate $983 in sales per square foot. The Fayetteville store will have 40,000 square feet.
The 1,500-square-foot taproom will offer locally produced beers as well as several national brands. Also available will be wine by the glass and espresso drinks. The taproom will also offer growler fills of both beer and wine, along with special advance keg orders, Bernold said.
A full lunch and dinner menu featuring wood-fired pizza, sandwiches, sushi, and barbecue cooked in the store’s own smokehouse will be offered in the bar area. The store will also feature indoor seating in the bar or covered outdoor patio seating.
The Texas-based grocer began opening small, locally focused bars inside select stores in 2009. Since then, the company has expanded the concept to 110 of its 406 locations, and has opened two on-site microbreweries at stores in Houston and San Jose.
Aside from beer produced in Northwest Arkansas, Whole Foods says it will offer more than 200 Arkansas items, including products from Onyx Coffee, Crystal Lake Farms, Oh Baby, Ozark Natural Bread, Sweden Creek, Fayettechill, and others.
Whole Foods describes itself as America’s healthiest grocery store, featuring national and organic foods, while maintaining strict qualify standards and committed to sustainable agriculture.
The natural foods grocer was originally supposed to open in October, but said in September that plans had changed to expand the store to 40,000 square-feet, scaling up from the original 35,000 square foot plan. The design changes would have pushed the completion date to November or early December. The company said it considers November through February as a “blackout period” for new store openings because of the holiday season and difficulty that occurs hiring temporary training staff at that time.
In September, the company also announced plans to scale back its organization eliminating about 1,500 jobs over the next several months, but Whole Foods officials said that was not the reason for the opening delay in the Fayetteville store. The retailer said the staff reductions were part of an ongoing commitment to lower prices and invest in technology upgrades while improving cost structure.