The Whole Foods in downtown Austin boasts an ice-skating rink. Dallas’ new Preston-Forest store features a spa.

In the company’s lingo, these are “signature elements” that distinguish each of its stores from the next. So when Whole Foods opens in Lakewood later this year, our new neighborhood store will be no exception.

“Lakewood will have a signature element. It may be product-oriented, it may be service-oriented, it may be some amazing part of the design,” says Karen Lukin, Whole Foods spokeswoman. “But whatever it is, it will be something really special and unique that draws people into the store.”

As part of moving to the spot where Minyard’s now sits, Whole Foods will close its oldest existing store on Lower Greenville. That store celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and even underwent some remodeling over the summer. But when the Minyard’s location became available, Lukin says, “it was a logical business decision.”

For years, customers have complained about limited parking at the Greenville store, which won’t be an issue after relocating to Gaston and Abrams, she says. Plus, in its new location, Whole Foods plans to build a 50,000-square foot store — two-and-a-half times the size of the 20,000-square foot Lower Greenville store.

“There was just no room to grow,” Lukin says. “Think of what you can do with 20,000 to 30,000 more square feet? It’s an amusement park for people who buy food.”

The Lakewood store will be comparable in size to the new Preston-Forest Whole Foods, making it one of the chain’s larger stores in Dallas. The largest will open sometime in 2008, when Whole Foods completes construction on its 80,000-square foot store at Greenville and Park Lane.

Of course, the news of Whole Foods moving in also means longtime fixture Minyard’s, considered by many to be their neighborhood grocery store, is moving out. (See Jeff Siegel’s column on page __ for more reflections.) Minyard Food Store CEO Mike Byars says the decision to sell the Lakewood store was driven by “neighborhood demographics and shopping patterns.” He also says his company worked hard to make sure the sale was to a company that best fit the community.

According to Lakewood resident Kathleen Orlowsky, this effort was successful.

“The closest grocery store is Tom Thumb, and I think people in Lakewood are a little more discerning about what they put on the table for their families,” Orlowsky says. “A lot of Lakewood parents are very health conscious, and I think Whole Foods will do very well here. Plus, I think it’ll be great for our area’s retail.”

The Lakewood Minyard’s will close it doors for the last time Feb. 6. The company says it hopes to absorb most of the employees at other stores. Lukin says Whole Foods’ Lower Greenville employees will be moving over to the Lakewood location, and the store will be hiring 50 to 100 additional employees.

Once Minyard’s closes, Whole Foods will raze the existing building and construct a “European-design” store, Lukin says. Company officials currently are researching designs in ; Lukin says no architectural renderings exist yet and, because no Whole Foods store is like another, there’s no template for the Lakewood store, either.

Neighbors who want to offer their two cents on the process should stop by the Lower Greenville location and fill out a comment card, which company management reads, Lukin says. Lukin says no matter what the new store looks like, the company plans to remain true to its Lower Greenville roots.

“At the 20th anniversary party, I actually heard the phrase, ‘Hey, neighbor! I haven’t seen you in a long time,’” Lukin says. “Even though it’ll be a larger store, we still want to capture the neighborhood feel because that, to us, is what the Lakewood and East Dallas area is about.”


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