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Whole Foods to open store in Asheville

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11/21/2012 - Whole Foods to open store in Asheville
by Jason Sanford - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE -- Whole Foods Market, a publicly traded natural and organic foods grocery store chain based in Texas, announced Tuesday that it's planning to open a store in a Tunnel Road shopping center that's getting a major makeover.

Whole Foods Market said the planned 35,000-square-foot store, the first Asheville store under the Whole Foods Market brand, is scheduled to open in 2014. The Greenlife Grocey the company owns on Merrimon Avenue will remain open, a company spokeswoman said. The new store will be the company's 11th in North Carolina.

Lyle Darnall, a representative for Edens, the South Carolina-based development company that owns the east Asheville shopping center, said the company plans to invest more than $15 million to remake the location into a retail hub that will attract a variety of sellers and shoppers. The company plans to demolish the building that's home to the center's biggest tenant, Kmart, and build three new structures. Kmart announced last week it will close its Tunnel Road store in January.

"The shopping centers we've put together have a unique design and are a community gathering spot," Darnall said. "When it's all said and done, you won't recognize that shopping center."

Whole Foods Market is a key partner, Darnall said, and will help the center draw a mix of local, regional and national retailers to the shopping center.

"I think it's a good starting point and we will be looking for other retailers who work well with that piece to create a cohesive environment" for shoppers, he said.

Mike Howard, Whole Foods Market's South region vice president, said in a written news release that the company had been looking for location for a new store "for quite some time."

"Asheville is a great city with a lot of interest in natural and organic food, so we are excited to be adding to our roster of stores in the area and to be bringing a new store to the market," Howard said.

The arrival of Whole Foods Market adds another major grocery store chain to the ever -growing list of grocers and specialty food stores moving into Asheville. The specialty food store Trader Joe's announced earlier this year that it will build a store on Merrimon Avenue near another big new grocery store under construction by Harris Teeter.

Whole Foods Market had sales of $12 billion in fiscal 2012. It currently has 343 stores in the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. The chain features natural foods free of artificial flavors, colors, sweeteners, and preservatives and hydrogenated fats.

Reaction from people at the shopping center Tuesday afternoon was mixed.

Faye Williams, a clerk at the Tuesday Morning store in the center, said her son lives in Austin, Texas, and that she has shopped Whole Foods Market stores there.

"It's very definitely a good thing," Williams said. "We need more of that kind of thing."

Daniel Smith, an instructor at the Crossfit Asheville gym adjacent to the Kmart store, said the new store will mean stiffer competition for existing retailers.

"Asheville loves its healthy food, but it's way too many new stores at once," Smith said.

Representatives from Edens told staff members from the city of Asheville on Monday that the building currently housing Kmart would be demolished. A 35,00-square-foot building, a 30,000-square-foot building and an 8,000-square-foot building will replace the Kmart building.

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