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Local Business Prepares as Whole Foods Goes Small



HOST CRISTINA MACAYA: The grocery store giant Whole Foods, is set to open some new locations. But…they’re small. These new stores will be just a quarter or half the size of a typical Whole Foods. As Klara Bauters reports, this could threaten many of the city’s small upscale grocery stores. 


KLARA BAUTERS:


(Sounds of someone entering the store)


Grace’s Marketplace is on second avenue between 68th and 69th streets. Right around the corner from where a new, small Whole Foods is set to open later this year. But store manager Felipe Juarez is not worried.


FELIPE JUAREZ: I believe that competition is always welcome. But to be honest, like, we are not afraid of, uh, of competition because it’s a family run business. You can walk in any time of the day and you can, uh, have a chat with at least one of the owners.


BAUTERS: This isn’t your typical deli. Sure it has groceries but it also has a granite countertop with stools where customers can sit down to eat freshly prepared meals. And that means it may soon have to compete with the new Whole Foods. The new smaller locations will cut out lifestyle goods but will have similar offerings -  to Graces groceries and gourmet meals. Juarez has been working here for 25 years. He says there are three things that set apart Grace’s from larger chains. First customers can always find a familiar face. Next, the high quality of their food.


JUAREZ: Let’s say smoked salmon. All the big chains out there, they buy the smoked salmon, like even big, big, big badges and they freeze it. Here. I mean, like me, I work directly with our suppliers, um, there is no like a middleman.


BAUTERS: Reason number three. Juarez emphasizes Grace’s Marketplace connects with small producers. Which he says means they can offer unique products. He walks down an aisle and pulls out a package of chocolate chip cookies with salt.


JUAREZ: This brand of cookies, when I saw the first time, I was like, uh, salt on a, on a, on a, on a cookie with a, with chocolate, you know, it's something that like, you don’t really heard.


BAUTERS: Despite Whole Foods' move,   there are three percent fewer big chain stores in New York City compared to last year. That’s according to the Center for an Urban Future which tracks national chains. It says cell phone stores and pharmacies are shuttering. But coffee chains and retailers offering desserts are expanding their presence. In spite of the growing competition Juarez is counting on customers to stay loyal. And his strategy may work. In the middle of the store, at the granite countertop, Delseta Thomas is enjoying a chopped salad with her Goldendoodle. 


DELSETA THOMAS: Oh my God. I love it. For the restaurant? Chef is my favorite. The food is the best. And we know everybody, you know, we're like a family right here. So it’s really good.

Despite hearing about the upcoming arrival of a smaller Whole Foods nearby, Thomas is resolute: she says there’s simply no substitute for Grace’s marketplace.


BAUTERS: 

For her it’s the connection with the staff that makes this place memorable. But for others it’s the food. For instance Bill Siegel. He’s celebrating the birthday of one of his daughters here.


[Oh hi! Happy birthday. ]    


Siegel pulls up a photo album on his phone with only dishes from Grace’s Marketplace. Almost 50 photos are of food made by the chef here.


SIEGEL: That’s the pork chop, that sauce is magnificent. I’ve eaten plenty of places all around the world and there’s no better.


BAUTERS: While we’re looking at his album Another customer jumps in. 


GLENN: You know this is the best restaurant in the city? I know. I’ve been hearing from all these people here. Well, one more. He’s really the best.  What’s your name? My name is Glenn and I'm here probably 12 times a day. Really? Not 12 times a day, but certainly 10 times a week.


BAUTERS: Whole Foods hasn’t yet announced when its new locations will open. But Despite its impending arrival these New Yorkers say they’ll stay loyal to their favorite corner store....For now.


Klara Bauters, Columbia Radio News.

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