It's been over a week since Earth Fare held its grand opening for its Huntsville store on University. Kalou's in Providence, which opened last fall, seems to be doing well. On the southside, Fresh Market opened a few years ago. And we can't forget the locally-owned Garden Cove on Meridian, the oldest of Huntsville's organic food stores, open for some 25 years.
Even with these choices, I am frequently asked about when Whole Foods Market, by far the largest organic grocery chain in the country, will be coming to Huntsville. Their only store in Alabama is in Mountain Brook, south of Birmingham.
Recently, Chattanooga-based Greenlife, a two-store (Chatty and Asheville) organic grocery chain, was bought by Whole Foods. (Observant readers of the blog might remember that I predicted Greenlife would announce a Huntsville location soon, possibly downtown.) Could this mean that Whole Foods is looking to expand in more mid-size metro areas like Chattanooga, Asheville, and eventually Huntsville? Granted, the former two cities are much more urban in nature, something Whole Foods seems to prefer when locating in smaller cities. While similar in size, when it comes to urban living, Huntsville has a long way to go before being considered on level with cities like Chattanooga and Asheville.
Whole Foods seems to prefer trendy urban neighborhoods (like Chatty's North Shore) or super-wealthy/high-density suburbs (like Cool Springs/Franklin, TN). Huntsville has neither, which could pose a problem in finding a location. Looking at their minimum store placement requirements, it seems there are only two viable candidate areas in Huntsville-- downtown (Constellation?) or Research Park (Bridge Street?). Bridge Street almost got Wild Oats Market (now Whole Foods) back in 2006, but I have a problem with putting a grocery store in an area where few people live, now or ever. At least downtown has a pretty good chance of eventually getting enough full-time residents to attract a grocery store.
The last paragraph could also be applied to Trader Joe's, another popular grocery store; their closest location is in Nashville.