Eye On Real Estate: Is a food fight with famed Park Slope coop in the offing?
By Lore Croghan
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Good morning, Gowanus!
There were toxins in the soil, opposition from neighborhood artists and manufacturers, injured construction workers. Finally, Brooklyn's first Whole Foods Market is opening on Dec. 17.
It has been a decade in the making on the corner of Third Avenue and 3rd Street, on the banks of the notoriously polluted canal that's a Superfund cleanup site – another step, some say, in the continuing gentrification of the grimy-chic urban frontier that is Gowanus.
“People will be pleasantly surprised at what they waited so long to see,” said Michael Sinatra, a spokesman for the Austin, Tex.-based company, which has hired about 300 people, mostly Brooklyn residents, to work at the new store.
It will sell lots of Brooklyn products – including produce from a 20,000-square-foot rooftop farm operated by Greenpoint-based Gotham Greens. The pesticide-free veggies will grow year-round in the greenhouse overlooking the pea-soup-colored Gowanus Canal, which smelled faintly of rotten eggs on a walk through the neighborhood earlier this week.
Yuji Ramen, a noodle shop that was launched in a Williamsburg bar, will have a presence.
Also, the 56,000-square-foot supermarket will have environmentally conscious touches like solar panels in the parking lot and wind turbines on the lamp posts.
High-quality organic and natural products and environmental stewardship are a twin focus of the upscale supermarket chain, whose long-standing nickname is “Whole Paycheck” because of pricey products like $29.99 emu eggs – that's for a single egg.
Still, staples are reasonably priced: a quart of milk is $1.29 at the Whole Foods on Greenwich Street in Tribeca, only 10 cents more than at the Associated Supermarket on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope.
An LLC affiliated with Whole Foods bought the Gowanus site – minus the decrepit but stunning Coignet Building, which sits on the corner of the lot – for $4,945,200 in 2005, city records indicate. The seller was Levanic Inc., a company headed by investor Richard Kowalski.
Levanic had paid $975,000 for the entire property in 1992, including the now-landmarked Coignet Building, city records show. (See related story about what's next for the mysterious landmark.)
As workers put the finishing touches on landscaping outside the Whole Foods, some area residents foresee a food fight – between the newcomer and a redoubtable Park Slope institution.
“I'm really excited because I'm hoping the Whole Foods will shorten the lines at the Park Slope Food Coop,” said Naftali Rutter, a filmmaker who lives in Gowanus. “Sometimes you wait 20 minutes to check out – but it's worth it.”
The famed Union Street coop's members are required to work two and three-quarters hours per month for 20% to 40% savings on groceries. Already, some are pledging their allegiance in a face-off between the fine food purveyors.
“I'm not going to give up the coop – it's 100% my thing,” said Kim Felsenthal, a professor who lives in Park Slope.
“I'd rather not shop at something that's a publicly owned, big company. I'd rather support local businesses,” she said.
Whole Foods spokesman Sinatra is philosophical about the prospect of a showdown with the 15,500-plus member coop, noting there are competitors everyplace the company builds a store.
“What will keep people coming back [to Whole Foods] is the care with which we research and select our food and the quality of the food we sell,” he said.
P.S.: A second Brooklyn Whole Foods is coming to Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg.