It was with dismay that I read of the local Jackson Whole Grocery being taken over by the Whole Foods chain in the JH News and Guide. I believe the road to a healthy economy is through keeping things as local as possible. Jackson had already seen its other natural food store, Lucky's, go under last year. While not really local by normal standards it was out of Boulder, CO making it almost a neighbor by western measurements.

I have seen with my own eyes how Whole Foods operates in other areas. The third store they ever built was in New Orleans where I used to live. They were on the east central part of town in an upper class neighborhood back in the 1980's. The only other natural food store was on the west side of town in a working class neighborhood. I got to know the owner, a nice friendly guy in his 30's, and he even invited me to work there as my prior experience was all in that field. Years later when Whole Foods decided to expand they moved in a few blocks from his store. Odds are good that it was a calculated move to put him out of business so they would be the only ones offering top grade food. It worked.

Much later I applied for a job at a soon-to-be-opened Whole Foods in Hollywood, CA. (yes, that Hollywood!). The hyper manager auditioning me for the position gave me the feeling that they wanted to get workers in as cheap as possible. When he found out how much I had been making at a natural foods distributor in Germany he balked, realizing how much more that was than what he would offer. WF is not know for high wages (Germany IS known for high wages.). I didn't bother pursuing it further.

Later again when I was living in Boulder Colorado I watched as the drama unfolded when WF moved in there with the attitude of taking over. Boulder was already known as one of the natural food capitals of the U.S. Celestial Seasonings, Mountain High Ice Cream and White Wave Soy Products and any number of other cottage industry companies had already made Boulder the organic Mecca of the mountain states. WF was going to muscle its way into a market that already had the Wild Oats chain and local Alfalfa's franchise. One of the local free newspapers had featured a cartoon of an aerial view of downtown Boulder with Wild Oats as King Kong battling it out with Whole Foods depicted as an invasive Godzilla. In the end WF won, taking over both Wild Oats and Alfalfa's. In the years hence the City Of Boulder ruled that WF had too much of a monopoly in the health food industry there and had to sell Alfalfa's back to its original owner Mark Retzlof of Horizon Dairy fame, an organic milk firm. The former CEO of Wild Oats who had once been my boss at a former Boulder store (and was probably the best boss I ever had) was quoted in the local paper as giving up the position “because the natural food industry had become so dog eat dog.”

Throughout the US WF has taken an aggressive, bullying approach to their business. They would probably be happy to take over the whole natural food industry. Although their products are unique and definitely above the quality of normal supermarket fare, their prices are expensive and their aggressiveness definitely not in line with the wholesome food coupling a wholesome lifestyle that the pioneers of the healthy living revolution of the 60's and 70's had in mind.

I feel it is unfortunate that Jackson is losing a tried and true local establishment. The money reaped there largely stayed in Jackson. A major part of the income of WF will be headed to their base in Austin, Texas. All of this is of course better than having the business close down entirely and be shuttered. WF might prove itself to be a worthy neighbor, but that remains to be seen.

I just hope that the cause of the change of ownership was not a hidden lawsuit over the prior business's use of the name 'Jackson Whole Grocery' as being a copyright infringement. This is pure speculation without a factual basis, but one never knows in our modern world of finance.

Roger Freed