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Friday, August 15, 2014

Whole Foods, complete with in-store pub, prepares for Aug. 19 opening

NASHUA – For those looking for evidence that Whole Foods isn’t your average grocery store, consider this: the new Nashua store opening on Tuesday comes complete with an in-store bar with a bunch of beers on tap.

On Thursday, a few days before the official opening of the store at Turnpike Plaza at 225 Amherst St., workers were setting up stylized displays and rows of products. ...

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NASHUA – For those looking for evidence that Whole Foods isn’t your average grocery store, consider this: the new Nashua store opening on Tuesday comes complete with an in-store bar with a bunch of beers on tap.

On Thursday, a few days before the official opening of the store at Turnpike Plaza at 225 Amherst St., workers were setting up stylized displays and rows of products.

“What we really try to do is take the guesswork out of shopping for people,” Katie Lamie, a spokesperson for the chain, said during a tour on Thursday. “We really want people to know what they’re shopping for.”

The Nashua store will make its own tortillas and its own ground beef, and will serve prepared foods, including sushi and sandwiches.

Whole Foods, based in Austin, Texas, has been one of the fastest-growing grocery chains in the country for years, based on its reputation for organic, locally grown and other high-end foods. Rumors of a Nashua store have been buzzing for years.

The stores are known for high prices, leading critics to label the chain “Whole Paycheck,” but that hasn’t been a problem – until recently, at least.

Whole Foods’ success has drawn others into the organic and natural-good retail business, from competitors like Trader Joe’s to stores as big as Wal-Mart, which plans to sell more organic groceries. This competition has unnerved investors, who have sent Whole Foods’ stock market price down by more than a third since last fall, even as sales and profits have stagnated after years of strong growth.

Still, the chain remains very popular. Rumors about a Nashua store have been flying for at least four years.

For a long time, many people were sure it would replace the old Building 19 store, further west on Amherst Street.

The opening comes in a chaotic time for local supermarkets due to the ongoing standoff among the owners of Market Basket. Lamie said that turmoil had no bearing on Whole Foods’ plans; the firm announced its move to Nashua last year.

Whole Foods plans to open its second New Hampshire location in downtown Portsmouth in 2016, and a third in Bedford later on. Its nearest store to Nashua is in Andover, Mass. It has 35 stores in the Northeast, out of about 380 in the U.S. and Canada.

The Nashua store will offer some services and products not widespread in the chain, Lamie said. For example, the meat department will make their own ground beef daily and display the time it was produced on a sign atop the meat case.

“We can track where our meat’s coming from,” said Lamie. “This is becoming more and more important for us.”

Like their other stores, the meat will follow the Animal Welfare Rating standards, which rates how animals are raised for meat. Fish at the store, too, is rated similarly to ensure their customers know how the fish were caught or raised.

The Nashua store also will make its own tortillas in several flavors and not only offer them fresh for sale but make them part of the fare in the prepared food section and the bar, called J. Bartlett’s Pub, at the front of the store.

The Whole Foods is in the site of a former Market Basket, which was vacated after Market Basket upgraded its grocery store at Somerset Plaza, a mile west on Route 101A. The store was gutted and remade, and a nearby stand-alone Papa Gino’s restaurant was torn down to make more room for parking.

Turnpike Plaza sold last month for $27 million. The plaza was sold to Chop Acquisition, a Boston-based LLC, which said that the arrival of Whole Foods was a factor in the purchase decision and the relatively high price per square foot.

Don Himsel can be reached at 594-6590 or dhimsel@nashuatelegraph.com.