Let me begin this post with a full disclosure: I run a small gourmet food company in Portland and Whole Foods Markets carries my products in all of their Northwest accounts.
There I said it. Whole Foods has been bery bery good to me. And it's not just my local bidness that they've been good to, but to many of my fellow Northwest small bidness owners in the industry. But you would never guess this fact if you had attended a public hearing in Eugene recently about the proposed Whole Foods in the forgotten downtown of Eugene. It sounds more like it was a hearing based on a Wal-Mart proposal than Whole Foods. There was fierce opposition to it.
Local activists believe that a new Whole Foods will shut out local mom-and-pops and that they won't support local business. But Au contraire, Whole Foods is well known for it's local support. It is stores like Wild Oats that shut out local businesses by purchasing only from large corporate distributors who purchase only from large corporate vendors, thus shutting out small local businesses like mine. Whole Foods, on the other hand, builds relationships with local distributors who carry local products. They even buy direct from local vendors, which many large grocers would never do in a million years.
As far as other local grocery stores are concerned, many do see an initial drop in sales when a Whole Foods moves in, but eventually things stabilize, just as they have in the Northwest district in Portland where one can witness the fiercest competition between natural/specialty food stores in the nation. Within a one mile radius, we have Food Front, Zupan's, a remodeled upscale Fred Meyer, City Market, Trader Joes and Whole Foods, all of which have a good share of business. Many of these stores, particularly the local ones like Food Front, had to make some changes in order to compete with Whole Foods, and those changes have made Food Front a better place to shop.
And there is another factor here: Whole Foods pays their employees well. They bring good jobs to local communities. So when you add all these things up, and let me remind you what they are (WF buys from local food vendors and distributors, their presence improves the competition and they provide good paying jobs and career opportunities) Whole Foods is a net gain for communities. Hopefully, Eugene activists will come to realize this once they see the fruits of a Whole Foods.