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Whole Foods Market to open in Wichita at the new Waterfront Plaza

Thursday, July 26 2012 12:00 AM

Whole Foods Market to open in Wichita at the new Waterfront Plaza

By Carrie Rengers

Published by The Wichita Eagle

UPDATED — A new phase of the Waterfront development will be the home of Whole Foods Market when it arrives in Wichita next year.

“It’s very big for us,” said Stephen Clark II, who is managing the project, of landing the organic and natural food chain.

“It could be beneficial for the whole market,” Clark said. He said retailers such as Whole Foods Market and the new Cabela’s that entered the market earlier this year attract other big names.

“The more of that you can get, the more interest there is from others.”

Clark’s father, Steve Clark, and fellow Waterfront developer Johnny Stevens are building a new 70,000-square-foot retail center calledWaterfront Plaza on the northwest corner of 13th and Webb Road, which Stephen Clark says is part of the larger Waterfront development on the northeast corner.

Whole Foods will anchor the development with a 30,000-square-foot store that Clark said will open in November 2013.

“We just feel that it’s really going to pair well with the community,” saidBen Friedland, executive marketing coordinator of the Rocky Mountain region for Whole Foods Market.

“One of the things that we’re most excited about is we’re a very decentralized organization, which allows us to build stores that are very specific to the communities in which they live,” he said. He said the chain partners with local producers who meet Whole Foods Market standards to sell their items so the store is “going to be endemic to the community, and it’s going to take on its local flair and its local flavor.”

“We’re just really excited about the abundance of local products available.”

Friedland said the Austin-based chain, which has 325 stores in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom, has been looking at Wichita for a couple of years.

“It’s another feather in the cap of Wichita for bringing the big names that wouldn’t touch us two to five years ago,” said Don Piros of Landmark Commercial Real Estate. “It’s the domino effect. You bring one or two here, and the rest think, geez, maybe we should be here.”

Piros is handling leasing at the remaining 40,000 square feet at Waterfront Plaza in addition to retail and office leasing within the larger Waterfront area east of Webb Road. That includes a new 4.3 acre area under development north of Chester’s Chophouse & Wine Bar where two new office buildings are slated to be under construction soon.

Piros said he’s close on a few potential Waterfront Plaza tenants. Clark said landing Whole Foods helps.

“People want to be next to Whole Foods, and we expect a lot more activity out there.”

Wichita has seen a lot more grocery activity in the market in recent years. First Wal-Mart and Target brought their superstores here. More recently, Fresh Market opened at Bradley Fair in June and Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage opened on North Rock Road in November.

“When you get a city like Wichita being overstored, it puts a pressure on all the retailers,” said Jon McCormick, executive director of the Kansas Food Dealers Association.

“We have members down there, and I’m sure it will affect them from a sales standpoint,” he said, adding that existing stores “are the ones that are in jeopardy.”

McCormick said if the economy improves and Wichita’s population grows, stores would have a better chance of succeeding.

“We think there’s room for everyone,” Clark said.

Friedland said that “ultimately … the customers are going to win because they get more choice.”

In a 2010 Wichita Eagle reader survey of what stores and restaurants Wichitans would like to see here, Whole Foods ranked No. 6.

“It’s worth the trip even if we’re not grocery shopping,” said WichitanCassandra Schwartz of shopping at Whole Foods in her native Seattle. “It’s fun to see the things we don’t get here.”

She’s looking forward to now getting those products, such as an exotic pepper that she was “freaking out” over not finding for a dinner party recently.

“We’re looking forward to not having to worry about that.”

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