Boston has a new 50,000-square-foot Whole Foods Market in the South End that incorporates pieces of Boston history, yet looks nothing like Boston.
The new Whole Foods is located in the new Ink Block residential complex, built where the Boston Herald Building was located for decades. The sleek rectangular building, hard by the Southeast Expressway, looks like the renovated industrial buildings you find all over Chicago. There’s even a free parking lot, lined with fake brick pavers, which you’re much more likely to find in my hometown than here in Boston. If I didn’t see the expressway whizzing past me, I’d have never guessed I was in Boston.
Echoes of the Herald and Boston history are incorporated through the store, including old typesetting trays on the walls, the giant Boston Herald sign from the old building, and historic editions of the Herald (cleverly used as backgrounds for the aisle signs). Despite these local icons, it didn’t say, “You’re in Boston” to me.
In addition to the usual array of natural and organic groceries and an extensive beer, wine and spirits department, there are lots of little boutique areas that serving up fresh food, including a juice bar, a stir fry bar, and a coffee bar. There’s even a “seafood shack” that will fry up fresh clams for you to eat in store or take out. I heard they also have an in-store spa, but the store was so big, I didn’t get to that section.
While the seafood counter wasn’t nearly as impressive as the seafood department at Wegman’s, this Whole Foods has some innovations that leave Wegman’s in the dust. For example, Wegman’s offers a variety of prechopped vegetable combinations that make it easy to cook a fresh dinner at home (and will chop up vegetables to order if you ask), but Whole Foods has a whole refrigerated wall of dozens of different types of chopped vegetables that you can assemble into your own mix to take home. Sure, it’s cheaper (and fresher) to prep your own vegetables, but some nights you just don’t feel like doing all that work.
We were at the store on Superbowl Sunday and I was happy to be able to buy guacamole from our local vendor, Chica de Gallo, who was demoing the product that day. There were several other local foods companies that day as well.
While I always prefer to support local businesses when I can, I appreciate any business that helps people eat more healthy and more local food. As a giant chain, Whole Foods has the resources to popularize concepts that the small, independent stores and companies have pioneered. While I’m not likely to be a regular, I’m glad that Boston has a new palace of food. Besides, I like anything that reminds me of Chicago.