This meeting and many others like it were undertaken because of Whole Foods Market’s decision in 2005 to close the 3135 Esplanade Avenue location. The neighborhood was very concerned, especially with the announcement that the sale of the building would include a non-compete clause so that other grocery stores could not operate there for some years, even though the building had contained a grocery since around the turn of the century.
From the March 2005 PARKVIEW NEIGHBORHOOD ASSOCIATION newsletter:
Meeting to Discuss the Future of the Whole Foods Site Attracts 140 Neighbors
A neighborhood town meeting took place on February 19 at the Holy Rosary cafeteria to discuss the future of the Whole Foods site. Over 140 individuals attended the meeting, an overflow crowd that exhausted all available chairs. The Austin-based company announced in January that the Esplanade store would be closing in April. According to those involved in the organization of the meeting, Whole Foods Market’s CEO John Mackey has offered to allow neighbors some involvement with the review of bids for the property, which is supposed to be listed for sale in the next few weeks.
The meeting was chaired by Robert Thompson, co-owner of Fair Grinds Coffeehouse, who gave some background history of the closing of the store. Next, Darlene Wonik discussed a survey that she had taken regarding what grocery items neighbors want in a store. The first guest speaker was Mike Zarou, owner of All Natural food store. Mr. Zarou said that in order for him to open a business at the present Whole Foods site he would need to own the building. He said that if he had not owned the building on Magazine Street, where his previous store was located, which was directly across the street from the Uptown Whole Foods, he would have had nothing to show after 19 years in business. French Quarter grocer Cosimo Matassa addressed this sentiment, saying that the expected high sale price would make it very difficult for most businesses to make a profit at that location. Two other grocers, Lakeview Fine Foods and Canal Blvd. Super Market, who were invited to the meeting did not attend. Larry Schmidt, a representative of the Trust for Public Lands, discussed the possibility of having Whole Foods donate the property to the Trust. The property would then be transferred to a non-profit entity that would operate a community business. Many in the audience reacted positively to this possibility. John Calhoun of the New Orleans Food Co-Op said, “The only way the community can get what it wants is to own the shelves.” Many approved of this message, and one individual in the audience urged Mr. Calhoun and his organization to purchase the Whole Foods site. However, Mr. Calhoun stated that the Food Co-Op had but a few thousand dollars it its account. Tommy Usdin, President of the Faubourg St. John Neighborhood Association, offered his organizations resources to help determine what the neighborhood wants at the Esplanade site. A second meeting will be held sometime in March.