Whole Prudes: Why Is High-End Retail So Scarce in Park Slope?

On the other end of the spectrum was a “crazy fringe” of Park Slopers who may object to the presence of the store, she said. “They’re just not going to like that it’s this massive chain experience, even with progressive values. They’re not going to buy into that.”

“I guess I put myself in the ‘sure, but I won’t shop there’ category,'” Ms. Sohn said when we asked if she would allow Whole Foods to build on the site if it was entirely up to her. “I mean, they’re creating 350 jobs. There’s gonna be the greenhouse. It’s very ecologically conscious. There’s gonna be stations for electric cars.

“They’re the devil,” she said. “They’ve made it too good to turn down.”

There will also be bike parking and a waterfront esplanade, in the model of Ikea and Fairway in Red Hook. According to a letter sent by Mark Mobley, an executive who oversees construction for Whole Foods, the rooftop garden “will grow fresh, organic produce right on-site!” Michael Sinatra, a spokesman for the company, added that produce grown on the roof will be sold in the store. “The stores that are built in Connecticut use reclaimed wood from torn-down farms in Connecticut,” Mr. Sinatra said, “and hopefully this one will feature brick from old torn-down Brooklyn buildings.”

No bricks, however, will come from the landmarked Coignet Stone Company, constructed in 1873, on the corner of the Whole Foods lot. The structure will sit just behind the new store.

“I don’t know. I just don’t want them to tear it down. Do you? Maybe they should. What do you think?” asked artist Dustin Yellin on Sunday afternoon, after a flight back from Art Basel, talking about the Stone Company building. “They should donate it to artists to have a small museum there! I want to build a museum.”

He was eating dark chocolate and sitting cross-legged in his office, off the studio, living space and gallery he opened in Red Hook. There were photographs tacked to the wall above his desk, including reproductions of Pieter Bruegel winter-scene paintings, studies for a 24-by-36-foot glass piece he is working on. Mr. Yellin and his close friend, Charlotte Kidd, bought the building on an isolated street in 2007 after his work became too heavy for the floors in his Manhattan studio. Now he finds himself down the street from Fairway, and neighbors with the new cruise ship dock and Christie’s new warehouse in the New York Dock Company building. It’s a short walk to Ikea.

Mr. Yellin described Whole Foods as a “weird art installation, a postmodern clusterfuck of like 55 kinds of the same kind of granola and 55 kinds of the same kind of chocolate.” He doesn’t like grocery shopping very much.

“If it’s not going to be a museum, and it’s not going to be a park–’cause those are two things that I think enhance communities–then I say to myself, ‘Well, a Whole Foods isn’t terrible because a strip mall would suck. And Whole Foods isn’t terrible, because don’t they have good stuff?’ I could definitely shop there to cook dinner for my friends. It’s not Wal-Mart.”

Outside the co-op on Monday morning, the attitude was live-and-let-live. Doug Ashford, who teaches sculpture at Cooper Union and has belonged to the co-op since 1983, was waiting with his groceries for a ride home. He reached into his cart and tore off a piece of olive bread.

“The practices that are involved with the co-op have more to do with overall lifestyle choices that we all make,” he said. “The only problem is that if that creates an economic shift in the neighborhood, where people get replaced. But we’ve been through so many waves of gentrification–I’ve been here since the ’70s–that I’m not that worried about that, either.”

“I doubt I’ll shop there. It’s too expensive. All of their products have way too much sugar,” said Hilda Cohen, another co-op member, as she bungee-corded a cardboard box of groceries to the back of her bicycle. She comes over from Fort Greene to shop.

Ms. Cohen had heard all about Whole Foods’ green roof and said she thought the company was doing a good job listening to the neighborhood’s concerns. “They’re wanting to do the right thing. And for how many times Atlantic Yards doesn’t want to do the right thing …” she said. “So, you know, it feels like they’re trying.”

Erin Jones, who commutes from Chinatown to the American Can Factory across the street from the Whole Foods site, was conflicted about the new store. She likes the view from her office the way it is. “I like the signage, the big open lot. That’s something that I enjoy on my walk to work,” she said over the phone on Monday afternoon.

Ms. Jones and her coworkers at Lite Brite Neon make custom neon signage in rented studio space. They keep bees on the roof, but they haven’t been able to harvest any honey yet. The office normally orders in lunch together, or everyone brings from home, because there just isn’t that much nearby in Gowanus. She wondered whether their bees would like the Whole Foods roof garden better than what’s there now. “There’s sort of an outlaw nature to it,” she said. “It’s a great open expanse. I feel like it’s sort of a Texas of Brooklyn.”

How will the Whole Foods stack up to the venerable Park Slope Food Co-op? The Observer did some comparison shopping! >>

zturner@observer.com / @zekeft

Whole Prudes: Why Is High-End Retail So Scarce in Park Slope?