A version of this originally appeared in The Virginian-Pilot on Oct 26, 2012.
Far be it from me to rain all over Virginia Beach's Whole Foods frenzy but - dare I say it? - it's a supermarket, folks. Albeit one that required its own traffic cop to control the motorcade of rapacious shoppers on opening day.
Stop it. Do not throw acai berries at me. That's not nice.
Look, I know that the mere fact that the Austin, Texas-based purveyor of upscale organic food decided to grace the Resort City with a store is a sign that we've arrived, demographically speaking. Sure, the Beach already had a P.F. Chang's, a Brooks Brothers and a Ruth's Chris Steak House, but what affluent area doesn't have its own Whole Foods Market?
Hampton Roads. Until now.
This up-market chain is famously picky about where it locates its stores. It likes be surrounded by a populace willing to pay a premium for victuals uncontaminated by the chemicals and pesticides the hoi polloi consume with gusto.
Earlier this year, The Wall Street Journal wrote that Whole Foods was trying to shed its image of "stores teeming with snooty foodies, too expensive for anyone reliant a weekly paycheck" by adding more reasonably priced store brand products.
Yet it's precisely that cachet of exclusivity that causes city officials to drool over the chain.
Confession: I am not a snooty foodie. My idea of a tasty lunch is a protein bar washed down by a Diet Coke. Cold cereal is a perfectly delicious dinner.
Nevertheless, I put on a skirt and some lipstick to join hundreds - if not thousands - of more refined palates Wednesday morning at the Whole Foods happening on Laskin Road. I wanted to experience firsthand what The Pilot's food editor, Lorraine Eaton, had described as more "food museum" than neighborhood grocery.
Good thing I wore sensible shoes because the parking lot was full. So was the adjacent Kroger lot - despite a sign that warned non-Kroger customers to park elsewhere. Like scores of others, I finally ditched my car at Hilltop and hiked back to the new 40,000-square-foot store.
Once there, I quickly learned that Whole Foods customers may be fueled by organic food, but they're ferociously loyal.
As I stood in a mob, waiting to be allowed inside, I caught the eye of a bored-looking man who I mistakenly assumed was as bemused by the opening day chaos as I was.
"Can you believe we're all waiting to get into a grocery store?" I laughed.
Everyone within earshot spun and glared at me. I might as well have whipped out a can of DDT and started spraying the pumpkin display.
And that guy?
"This isn't an ordinary grocery store," he huffed. "It's Whole Foods."
With that, I was swept into the store by the forward motion of the people around me. Inside, bells were clanging, employees were smiling, babies were bawling and shoppers seemed giddy over the abundance of, well, stuff you can't get anywhere else.
"Can you believe it?" gasped one woman, triumphantly holding aloft a bottle of chocolate coconut milk.
I guess not.
Shoppers devoured the gluten-free shelves. Others snatched up bags of chia seeds, exclaimed over chocolate-covered goji berries and raved about the crunchy deliciousness of lightly salted hemp chips.
Through it all, an army of knowledgeable Whole Foods workers plied the aisles offering samples and pointing confused folks in the right direction.
By early afternoon, checkout lines snaked back through the aisles, and some were so weary they were slumped over their baskets. Here and there were orphaned carts, brimming with goods, presumably abandoned by those who were too impatient to wait.
After a few years with too many going-out-of-business sales, empty store fronts and foreclosures, the arrival of Whole Foods is a hopeful sign - for the economy and local foodies.
Goat cheese anyone?