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Whole Foods 57th Street Store Opening Draws Throngs of Shoppers

By Mary Johnson | August 23, 2012 10:15am | Updated on August 23, 2012 11:08am

MIDTOWN EAST — Whole Foods has arrived in Midtown East.

Dozens of eager shoppers lined East 57th Street between Second and Third avenues on Thursday morning — some as early as 6 a.m. — to be among the first to experience the 33,500-square-foot addition to the neighborhood.

Shoppers were joined by several elected officials, including Mayor Michael Bloomberg, City Councilman Dan Garodnick and State Sen. Liz Krueger, to welcome Whole Foods, which has also pledged to donate 57 salad bars to schools throughout New York City.

At a press conference before the store opened to the public, Bloomberg jokingly complained that he lived on 57th Street for 10 years and never got to take advantage of having a Whole Foods in his neighborhood.

"I was cooking all my own meals back then," the mayor said. "People here [now] are much luckier."

Bloomberg also lauded the popular grocery store chain's donation of salad bars to New York City schools, claiming that it would help curb obesity among children.

"We are starting to turn around the epidemic of childhood obesity that plagues so much of our nation," said Bloomberg, noting that the rate of obesity among New York City elementary and middle school students has decreased 5.5 percent in recent years. "This gift is going to help us continue that vital trend."

Whole Foods is the anchor retail tenant in a new building — financed through a public-private partnership between the Department of Education’s Educational Construction Fund and the World-Wide Group development company — that will also house two schools beginning this fall.

P.S. 59, which has been housed on East 63rd Street, will have about 730 students. The High School of Art and Design, which has been operating less than a block away on Second Avenue between East 57th and 56th streets, will have 1,400 students.

But the Whole Foods — the chain’s seventh store in New York City — has been perhaps the most hotly anticipated part of the project for neighborhood residents, many of whom stood in line early Thursday morning to be one of the first to scope out the new store.

Andrew Cooper, the first person in line, said he arrived about 6 a.m. on Thursday.

Cooper, 34, lives near East 60th Street and First Avenue and said, in the past, he has been forced to walk to Columbus Circle to access the nearest Whole Foods.

“It’s a long walk, but it’s worth it,” Cooper said. “Now, it’s right at my doorstep.”

Cooper said he was planning to pick up some fresh fruit on Thursday and check out the layout of the new store.

“Having a Whole Foods here is going to be good for the community,” Cooper said. “It’ll liven the place up.”

Kenia Sarita, 39, said she was interested in the store’s Whole Body section, which stocks everything from hair products to vitamins.

“They always have really good makeup,” she said.

Sarita, who lives on East 68th Street, said she plans to shop at the new Whole Foods about once a week, now that it’s finally open.

“It’s something fresh for the neighborhood,” she said. “We always have to go downtown or further uptown to shop at Whole Foods, and to have it here is so convenient.”

Whole Foods offered a few perks for those willing to brave the line and the crowds on Thursday. The first 250 customers received a free canvas tote bag, and those waiting in line were treated to free breakfast breads and fruit juice. At 2 p.m., the Turtle Bay Music School was scheduled to give a performance.

But at least one customer was a bit overwhelmed by all the excitement.

Kathy, who declined to give her last name, said she lives on East 50th Street between Second and Third avenues. She said she loves Whole Foods, but she called the scene on Thursday morning “a little wild.”

“So many people are shopping like crazy in the morning,” Kathy said. “It’s too crazy in there.”

Kathy said she left the store without purchasing anything because of the crowds, but she was planning to return once the scene had settled down.

“I’m looking forward to this,” she said. “This is so convenient.”