On the line were officials from Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods Market, which sits at the top of the A-list of health food grocers.
Whole Foods had decided it was ready to enter the Mississippi market, and Highland Village was where it wanted to build its first store in the state.
“That’s a pretty good phone call to get,” said Guy Boyll III, Highland Village’s vice president of operations.
After 10 or so months of negotiations, Whole Foods announced in early February that it will build a 30,000 square foot store on the east side of Highland Village. Boyll said he hopes construction will start either late this summer or early fall, with the store opening in time for Thanksgiving 2013.
The company, which has 400 stores in 40 states, has grown by filling a niche — using mostly locally grown, organic food to provide the healthiest eating options for its customers.
It has a track record of improving the economic health of its neighbors, too.
A 2007 study conducted by Realtors in Portland, Ore., found that commercial and residential real estate values close to a Whole Foods jumped nearly 18 percent once the store opened. Greg Badiskanian, a Citigroup analyst who tracks Whole Foods, told NPR that real estate close to a Whole Foods “gets a nice uplift. It could be a few percent to 10, 15, 20 percent in terms of the value.”
Whole Foods CEO John Mackey told CNNmoney.com in 2007 that “the joke is that we could have made a lot more money just buying up real estate around our stores and developing it than we could make selling groceries.”
Boyll is confident that trend will bleed over to Highland Village’s existing retailers.
“It’ll bring existing Highland Village customers here more often,” he said in an interview last week. “Those who normally come bi-weekly, a lot of those folks will now come weekly.”
Developers of the District at Eastover, which will sit less than a mile from Highland Village, are optimistic the Whole Foods Effect will travel south down Old Canton Road.
“It’s a game-changer for Northeast Jackson,” said Breck Hines, co-owner of The District Land Development Co., a subsidiary of Duckworth Realty. “I think we’ll ultimately get to share in it whether it’s on our property or Highland Village. It’s a no-brainer that it will help us.” Construction on the $110 million mixed-use District is set to start later this year.
Hines said Whole Foods was not initially on the District’s target list for its grocery component, but landed on it once Whole Foods officials made it known within economic development circles it was interested in Jackson. The mixed-use District will still have a grocery component, Hines said, but what kind will be determined by how much residential space ends up there.
The Whole Foods Effect could extend to local farmers and producers, said Darrah Horgan, company spokesperson. Horgan wrote in an email to the Mississippi Business Journal that Whole Foods, because the food it sells is organic and fresh, generally uses local sources as suppliers. “The biggest hurdle for many folks is our quality standards – we don’t sell anything with artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, sweeteners or hydrogenated fats,” Horgan wrote. Before the Jackson store opens, Whole Foods will hold a local open house, in which regional buyers meet with farmers and producers to sample products.
Whole Foods also has a local producer loan program, in which the company makes low-interest loans to potential producers to spruce up their operation enough to meet the company’s standards. Mississippi’s version of that program will also wait until closer to the opening date before starting, Horgan said. Loans range from $1,000 to $100,000.
Jackson’s original healthy grocer will sit a couple miles to the south of Whole Foods. Rainbow Natural Grocery Cooperative CEO Luke Lundemo said in a newsletter shortly after the Whole Foods announcement that the demand for organically healthy food in Jackson is great enough to support two grocers. Rainbow’s membership topped 6,000 in 2011, Lundemo said. “There is a huge and growing demand for healthy food alternatives – a bigger demand than any one store can fulfill.”
Boyll said the parking space lost when Whole Foods is built will be made up – and added to – by reworking Highland Village’s north parking lot, details of which he could not provide last week.
“They’ve done their studies and they’ve determined it will work,” he said.
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