After three years of construction headaches at a busy corner near the University of Missouri-Kansas City, a new Whole Foods opened Wednesday, promising upscale groceries, restaurant food in a retail store and local touches on a national chain owned by e-commerce giant Amazon.
Whole Foods is part of the Brookside 51 project at 51st and Oak streets, which includes a 170-unit apartment complex, a student health center and a parking garage. At the 9 a.m. grand opening, the store was swarmed by neighborhood residents and UMKC workers who were glad to get a food store across the street from the school.
Doug Swink, UMKC’s assistant vice provost for enrollment management, was drinking a free coffee while checking out goods inside and outside the store. Whole Foods will be a great addition to the area, he said.
“I just feel like having a grocery store right here in this corridor, and then with the housing space above, it’s just adding some amenities that we never had in this part of the community before,” Swink said.
Owners of other businesses along 51st said they were relieved that the long construction project, which had closed part of the street at times, was finally finished. So far, they said, foot traffic was up, so they hoped Whole Foods would offer more business and less competition.
Amazon, the largest internet retailer in the world, bought Whole Foods last June in a nearly $14 billion deal aimed at getting the e-commerce company into the grocery business and competing with Wal-Mart, the largest U.S. retailer. Whole Foods closed one of its Overland Park stores in preparation for the new Kansas City location.
Steph French and her boyfriend, Gabe Nodland, rode their bikes from their Hyde Park home and said they were glad that their primary grocery store is now so near to them. They were buying poke from the seafood bar and said they were happy to find local craft beers.
Amazon will offer a 10 percent discount to its Prime members later this summer, which was good news for French.
“I was an Amazon Prime member for a long time so I was a little surprised when Amazon bought Whole Foods,” French said. “So it was pretty advantageous at this point.”
Two of the new store’s designers were taking photos. Andrea Bright and Jeff Turner of the Greenville, South Carolina-based Southeastern Products said one of their directives was to include local references in the store's design. That led them to name the bar above the store the Fountain Room, a nod to the “City of Fountains.”
“It’s just a good Kansas City vibe,” Turner said, looking around the store. “The art deco, the barbeque, the jazz. I think a little bit of all that is in here.”
KCUR is licensed to the University of Missouri Board of Curators and is an editorially independent community service of the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Peggy Lowe is a KCUR reporter and is on Twitter @peggyllowe.