After a year and a half, northwest-siders will have their neighborhood Whole Foods back.
The upscale grocer, which closed its location at 7133 N. Oracle Road in January 2013 for a complete rebuild, re-opened on Aug. 27. The new store is twice as large as its predecessor, covering about 31,000 square feet in the Casa Adobes Plaza and employing about 180 people, more than half of them full time.
About a week and a half before the grand opening, the aisles were already stocked with dry goods and frozen foods as construction workers put finishing touches in the departments. Along with the standard grocery offerings, Whole Foods will have a juice bar, an olive bar, a non-GMO wine selection, a taqueria, a pizzeria, a charcuterie case and an attached corner pub, among other specialties. As Whole Foods likes to do in its stores, this location will also stock local and regional products, such as fresh herbs from a Willcox farm.
Store team lead Scott Holmes said the goal is to make the store a neighborhood hub with its own character. With the fencing down, passersby are wandering into the not-quite-finished lobby already, he said.
Richard Shenkarow, co-owner of the 1940s-era Casas Adobes Plaza, said the old space was antiquated and not designed for Whole Foods, having previously been a Wild Oats and a Reay’s Ranch Market.
The ground-up rebuild, which keeps the architectural integrity of the distinctive, Spanish Colonial-style complex, is “fantastic” and completes the repositioning Shenkarow set out to do when he bought the plaza 18 years ago, he said.
Whole Foods entered the Tucson market after its 2007 merger with Wild Oats, converting the Wild Oats at Casas Adobes Plaza and another at 3360 E. Speedway Blvd. to the Whole Foods brand.
A third Whole Foods opened around the time the Casas Adobes store went offline, in a Foothills shopping center that hadn’t seen a grocery store in about a decade. The most recent Whole Foods illustrates how the grocer can be a boon to its surroundings.
When the center, on River at Craycroft roads, sold in January for close to $25 million to a Maryland-based investor, it was fully leased with Whole Foods and Petco as anchors, several local shops filling out the smaller spaces, and a heavily made-over façade.
River Center had good occupancy in its smaller suites, said Andy Seleznov, director of leasing for the center’s former owner/manager, the locally based Larsen Baker. But its two anchors were empty. A grocery store-sized hole – once home to an ABCO, then briefly a Garrett’s IGA – hadn’t been filled since about 2002. With about 50,000 square feet combined between the two anchors, the center stood at about 60 percent occupancy by square footage.
ABCO went out of business in the early 2000s, so the grocery anchor had been vacant since before the recession. The landlords came close to refilling it at least once but nothing worked out.
Then Whole Foods came along, and on the heels of that, Petco. Seleznov said he thinks the Whole Foods drove the pet supplier’s interest, and without Whole Foods, the center wouldn’t have improved the way that it did.
“A grocer and anchor of that caliber would drive so much traffic, and discrete people with high disposable income certainly helps the project,” he said.
Shenkarow said Casa Adobes Plaza was already doing well and has been for some time. Still, with the new anchor, “it’s just going to do that much better.”