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Whole Foods To Open Store In Detroit

DETROIT (WWJ/AP) - Whole Foods Market Inc. plans to open its first store in Detroit, which would make it the only national grocery chain operating in the city limits.

The 20,000-square-foot upscale supermarket in the Midtown neighborhood, slated to open in 2013, will employ about 75 people, Whole Foods executive operations coordinator Red Elk Banks told The Associated Press. The company planned to formally announce the move later Wednesday.

Detroit has struggled to replace retailers who have steadily left the city over the past three decades, and residents have complained for years about the few options available for fresh fruit, vegetables and produce. Many say they must drive outside Detroit for quality groceries.

Whole Foods and city officials began discussions in 2007 to bring a store to Detroit. Talks regarding the Midtown site got under way last year, Banks said.

"We have cultivated relationships with Michigan growers and we want to expand that to Detroit growers," he said. "We feel this is the right time for us to make the jump into Detroit. It's the focus on the food economy that has driven us to select Detroit. We feel Detroit deserves the best that Whole Foods has to offer."

The supermarket likely will not look much different than other Whole Foods stores and offer the same products, Banks added.

City leaders have said the neighborhood chosen has the population density and residential income level to support new retail. Several miles north of downtown, Midtown is anchored by Wayne State University, the Detroit Medical Center and cultural institutions like the Detroit Institute of Arts and Orchestra Hall. It has seen retail growth and people moving into the area, even as other parts of the city lose population.

The medical center, Henry Ford Health System and Wayne State announced incentives earlier this year to get their employees to move into Midtown.

Banks said Whole Foods is looking forward to being part of the sense of vitality in Midtown and the various companies, nonprofits and foundations involved in the area,.

"We are very happy to become a partner to not only these organizations that are already flourishing in Detroit, but also those that will emerge in the future," he said.

But not everyone is thrilled with the way this deal has gone down.

WWJ Newsradio 950 spoke with Auday Arabo, spokesman for the Associated Food and Petroleum Dealers, an organization of independent grocery stores in the city. He says the Texas-based Whole Foods is getting tax breaks that are not offered to smaller, local companies.

"It's just bad. It's big business, once again, you know, getting advantage that little busniess owners, small business owners, don't get. It's just wrong," he said.

According to Arabo, those tax breaks and other incentives add up to more than $4 million.

"I think it's a slap in the face to all 83 full-service grocers that have put their hard-earned dollars into the city of Detroit and have been their through thick and thin. And, when the chains have left, they stayed true to the city," he said.

The company has five other supermarkets in Michigan.

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