For the many people who have been saturated with media-driven
images of run-down buildings, ruin, dilapidation and violent
crime, the news that Whole Foods (NASDAQ:
) is opening a 20,000 square-foot supermarket in Detroit will
confuse and bemuse.
However, those that live in the area, plus the executives at
the Austin, Texas retailer, know better. Detroit is a city on the
rise, being driven forward (no pun intended) by the Big 3
automakers and a slowly blossoming tech industry. Detroit is the
place to be.
The 75 employees that Whole Foods initially plans to hire will
barely make a dent in the Motor City unemployment figures, but
still, that's 75 people with a job that didn't have a job before.
But the reality is that Whole Foods, like Twitter earlier this
month, is serving as a symbol. Big businesses with branded names
are coming to Detroit. Something is happening.
The Associated Press noted on Friday that the Midtown area of
Detroit (formerly the Cass Corridor) has some way to go before it
can claim the sort of revitalization success enjoyed in cities
like New York and Chicago, but it is well on its way. Wayne State
University and the Detroit Institute of Arts are cultural
institutions, not just in the area but nationally, and the
rebuilding and rebranding of Midtown is starting there. Wayne
State has even been campaigning to encourage people who work in
Midtown to move their homes back to the area.
So what does Detroit have to offer Whole Foods right now?
Well, the aforementioned campaigns have been showing signs that
they are working and Midtown is now seeing more young people,
including students, move there.
"This is the one area (in Detroit) that has a different
demographic - more upscale, more youth, more students. It's a
great concentration of people," said Kenneth Dalto, a Michigan
retail analyst. "They are buying into the plans of Detroit to
grow the corridor."
The company admits that it will go lighter on many of the
gourmet foods that people in the area will simply not be able to
afford. It would be foolish to try to force expensive gourmet
food on an area that isn't yet fully gentrified. In other words,
the executives at Whole Foods are not just running at this
without thinking. They have done their homework.
There are still some concerns from residents that not everyone
will be able to afford to shop at Whole Foods, but most people
see the fact that a company like Whole Foods is willing to take a
chance on Detroit as a major step forward.
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