Wednesday, February 18, 2015

It's Open! Whole Foods Is Now On The Upper East Side And The Transformation Continues...

The scaffolding is off revealing a somewhat unexpected stone wall on East 87th Street and the store is open! hundreds, probably thousands came to check out the glimmering new home of organic and specialty foods. The 200 free tote bags were gone in a matter of seconds. The store was fully stocked and intentionally overstaffed to see that all that came, shoppers and gawkers alike, were directed to the organic, grass fed, free range eggs of their choice.

The 39,000 square foot store has tackled the challenge of a somewhat irregular rectangular space fronting Third Avenue and occupying the entire east side of the block from 87th to 88th. The first floor is primarily ready to eat meals, a mezzanine on the second floor provides café space, and the third floor contains the bulk of the grocery, meat, fish, and dairy sections. The aisles are larger than your average NYC supermarket, yet with overflow crowds a few bottlenecks arose which is typical of every Manhattan shopping experience. Like the Second Avenue Subway promises to lessen congestion from the Lexington Avenue line, perhaps this Whole Foods will help to lessen the traffic of nearby Fairway and make for a better shopping experience at both.

The new store has many implications, both from a shopping and real estate perspective.

From a shopping perspective, Whole Foods brings are greater variety and definitely fills the void for people looking for organic produce and a wide variety of specialty foods. The store should also puts pressure on local grocery stores to keep competitive on price, which is good for all of us. While stores like D'ag on 83rd and Lex have clearly upped their game since the arrival of Fairway a few years ago, this may spell doom for Food Emporium on 83rd and Third, like it did for the chain on 86th and Second. That space has been subject to rumors of a possible Trader Joe's in the future. Time will tell as to how this all shakes out.

As compelling are the implications the new Whole Foods has for Upper East Side real estate. In many ways, the arrival of the chain says that the neighborhood has arrived! Aside from that obvious observation, it should be noted that the store replaces and cleans up a previous eyesore. There were previously an array of small stores that included a café, a Janovics, and some sort of ambulatory care clinic. The retail on the block looked shabby and beat down. Now, it looks upscale and sleek. Further, the store marks another milestone in the evolution of 86th Street from what was once an intimidating and grungy street to a higher end shopping corridor. The Lucida on 86th and Lex replaced retail like a puppy mill and dilapidated donut store with a luxury condo, H+M, Sephora, and Barnes and Noble superstore. The Brompton, one block east, brought the architecture of Robert A.M. Stern, AT+T and Athletica to a replace V.I.M store and photo shop (which I actually miss). 86th Street sure has changed! Whole Foods is another building block in this slow but steady transformation.

Major events on East 86th from the way back machine:
Brompton Condo Topped, Bricks Too (AFB, Oct 2007)
East 86th Street: A Transformation Continues, But Space Available (AFB, Feb 2009)
Lucida Ready To Get Its Retail On; H+M Opens Tomorrow! (AFB, May 2009)
Fairway Market Opens On East 86th Street (AFB, July 2011)

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