May 27

Whole Foods Market adds grocery space in Westchase

Whole Foods Market is doubling its commitment to Houston’s Westchase district with a 40,000-square-foot store that is more than twice the size of the one it replaces.

“This is really going to bring this area up,” said Chris McManaman, one of many people who showed up Friday for a first peek at Westchase Shopping Center, 11041 Westheimer Road.

The new Whole Foods, which opens Wednesday, replaces the South Wilcrest Drive location that opened in 1991.

McManaman said the older store lacked the variety and visual appeal of the new Whole Foods Markets.

Austin-based Whole Foods compiled suggestions from shoppers at its old store to find out what they wanted, spokeswoman Lauren Talley said, and reflected those desires in the new space, formerly a Randall’s.

Requests included a larger store, more selections, and amenities like bars that are common at other sites.

“The Westchase shoppers are 100 percent value shoppers, so a lot of our goal with this store is bringing value to our guests,” Talley said.

The store features a 40-foot-long bulk section, where shoppers can fill containers to buy grains, flour, nuts and other items.

The previous store’s bulk section was much smaller.

The different departments – produce, seafood, meats, dairy, cheese, bakery, sushi – are in defined sections, something that wasn’t possible in the older store’s smaller format.

The wine section is twice as large, and there’s a growler-filling station for beer that can be moved to different parts of the store.

Seating for lunch

The most noticeable change will be the indoor and outdoor seating, which Talley said is geared toward expected large lunch rushes for Whole Foods’ prepared meals.

Jason Baker, a principal with real estate brokerage firm Baker Katz, called it an example of a retailer that is properly reading its surrounding neighborhood.

Westchase has changed within the past decade, Baker said, with residential values increasing and more families moving in.

Also, the millions of square feet of office space mean Westchase’s daytime population swells tremendously, providing a large pool of potential diners and daytime shoppers.

“Their doubling down there has almost as much to do with capturing that office space as with capturing the residential area,” Baker said.

The Westchase changes are an example of the kind of demographic shifts that have fueled intense competition in Houston’s retail grocery market.

High population growth for several years had grocers rushing to build in anticipation of residential growth.

“We’re still in the process of catching up with the growth,” said Ed Wulfe, longtime Houston developer and chairman and CEO of Wulfe & Co.

The residual energy has helped grocers thrive.

Building plans

By year’s end, 28 new grocery stores will populate the region.

Wal-Mart is adding four stores, including a recently opened Supercenter in Spring and a Neighborhood Market in Cypress.

Aldi will add nine stores. Kroger’s schedule is to build eight new stores and remodel 14 others in the second year of a three-year, $500 million investment in its Houston division.

H-E-B added a store in Clear Lake and plans others this year in Magnolia, along the Grand Parkway in Fort Bend County and in Kingwood.

This week, H-E-B announced its backing of a petition effort to reverse a more than century-old dry designation in the Heights area.

Opening the area to beer and wine sales would aid the grocer’s effort to build a store in the neighborhood.

But Fresh Market, a chain of smaller-concept grocery stores, was squeezed out of Texas and this month closed all four Houston stores.


Original article can be viewed here.