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Gowanus Loses Some of Its Gritty Edge with Opening of Whole Foods Grocery

By Leslie Albrecht | December 17, 2013 5:17pm
 The neighborhood where tire shops and auto repair dominated is now a gourmet food shopping destination.
Gowanus Loses Some of Its Gritty Edge with Opening of Whole Foods Grocery
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GOWANUS — A neighborhood whose name has long been shorthand for toxic waste got a new label Tuesday — gourmet food shopping destination.

Whole Foods opened its first Brooklyn outpost on the banks of the polluted Gowanus Canal at Third Street and Third Avenue, wiping away some of the area's gritty edge and replacing it with an emporium devoted to the organic and artisanal.

The store brims with Brooklyn touches, including a vinyl records kiosk with "reclaimed vinyl jewelry."

Eager shoppers unfazed by snow and frigid temperatures forced their way past reporters and TV cameras to check out the store early Tuesday morning. Once inside, the first 250 visitors got free tote bags, as well as a breakfast spread.

"I'm so glad I don't have to take the train to Manhattan for my Whole Foods fix," said shopper Angela Matamoro, a Bed-Stuy resident who usually buys groceries at Foodtown or Pathmark.

Some worry that the store, which has contributed to increasing rents in the area, will turn Gowanus into a pricier neighborhood, but shoppers like Matamoro praised its arrival.

"It solidifies Brooklyn as the borough to live in," Matamoro said. "It can survive as a city on its own. It boosts the economy and gives jobs to people living in Brooklyn."

The 56,000-square-foot store has 425 employees.

Among them were hyped-up seafood counter employees, who shouted out special prices on Chilean sea bass. "Good morning Whole Foods Brooklyn!" bellowed one worker. "We've got nice grilled lobster rolls on a buttered brioche roll!"

That offer didn't attract any takers, so another worker chimed in with a suggestion: "You have to say, come and get your seafood sandwiches here."

In addition to the $10 lobster rolls, shoppers ran a gauntlet of specialty and luxury items on their way to the 32 cash registers. Edible treats included truffle-topped pizza for $3.50 a slice, spicy tuna sushi rolls with kale for $9, and sriricha-marinated pork loin for $12.99 a pound.

Tags hanging on products throughout the store reminded shoppers that some merchandise was locally made, including a bag of miniature tarts in the bakery section that came from just 3.5 miles away.

Local artists will visit the store on a regular basis to lead art classes at the rooftop bar, which overlooks the polluted Gowanus Canal, a Superfund site that's about to undergo a lengthy cleanup.

Also atop the store is a 20,000 square-foot greenhouse operated by Gotham Greens that will grow leafy greens for the store.

Shopper Pat Rawlins called the new Whole Foods "beautiful" and said she liked the fact that it carries local products. She called the store a plus for Gowanus.

"Now that Whole Foods is here a lot of different things will come to Gowanus," Rawlins said. "It won't be so industrial anymore. It won't be looking so dreary."