Whatever Happened to Whole Foods?

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Whole Foods Market at 2323 Wisconsin Ave. NW has been shuttered for almost two years. Georgetowner photo.

The building and parking garage at 2323 Wisconsin Ave. NW in Glover Park, fed by a constant stream of Whole Foods shoppers — and an anchor for businesses on both sides of Wisconsin — have lain empty for almost two years. The popular upscale grocery store was forced to close “temporarily” in March of 2017 due to a rodent problem. Now, its absence is haunting residents in Glover Park and in the surrounding neighborhoods, including Georgetown.

“I am desperate for it to come back,” lamented one resident over coffee at Fresh Baguette, a new hangout at Wisconsin Avenue and S Street.

But a reopening appears increasingly unlikely, according to Eric Langenbacher, president of the Burleith Citizens Association. “A spokesperson I talked to recently told me the store was still in some interminable legal battle with the landlord, Wical,” Langenbacher told The Georgetowner. “He did not appear to be very optimistic that the dispute could be resolved and that the store would come back.”

The closure has “had a tangible effect on the surrounding businesses,” reported an Oct. 12, 2018, article in Bisnow, in which the owner of Rocklands Barbeque, at 2418 Wisconsin Ave. NW, said business was down 10 percent.

The frustration has sparked a movement among neighbors, who are organizing a support group for local businesses called the Glover Park Business Task Force. The organization is applying for certification under the DC Main Streets program.

A key point in the dispute between Whole Foods and Wical is that the store remained closed for more than the 60-day maximum specified in the lease. “Whole Foods has withheld critical information about its proposed renovations, which vastly exceed what is necessary to remediate the rodent problem that Whole Foods created at the premises,” wrote Wical attorney Moxila Upadhyaya.

Both sides seemed to have dug in their heels, which is not helping the despair of neighborhood shoppers. Making things worse, the Starbucks down the street at 2302 Wisconsin will be closing.

The only bright spot on the horizon is the much-anticipated opening of a Trader Joe’s in a new building two blocks south, in the 2100 block. But that launch may have been postponed. “I was told that some unforeseen engineering problems has pushed the opening of Trader Joe’s from spring of 2019 to now more likely the fall,” said Langenbacher.

In addition, Amazon, the giant online retailer, which acquired Whole Foods in 2017, recently announced that the Whole Foods 365 discount chain won’t expand to new markets as previously planned, according the Motley Fool’s Rich Duprey. “This comes as Amazon is feeling the effects of slowing online grocery sales, with growth tumbling 25 percent in 2018 from the prior year.”

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