All over Boulder the question on everyone's lips this past week was "Will my Wild Oats store stay open?"
I imagine the same question is being asked wherever Wild Oats operates, but with Boulder the birthplace of this natural foods grocer, the company's merger into Whole Foods is particularly on people's minds.
Wild Oats has four stores in Boulder, while Whole Foods has only one. And two more Wild Oats operate just down the U.S. 36 Corridor toward Denver, with a new store in Superior and another in Westminster. Wild Oats also has its headquarters here, having just moved into a new facility in Boulder's outdoor, pedestrian-friendly Twenty Ninth Street shopping district.
Boulder is deserving of its moniker "the Silicon Valley of the natural foods industry," with such industry leaders as Celestial Seasonings, White Wave, Horizon Organic Dairy and a new lineup of natural and organic foods startups being encouraged by both city government and business leaders. A new organization, Naturally Boulder, is trying to futher the city's reputation as a great place for natural foods entrepreneurs.
So it's a tough pill for Boulder to swallow to lose not only a corporate headquarters, but a company that for so long has been part of its natural foods roots.
The question still remains, and probably won't be answered until the $565 million deal is approved, on how many Wild Oats stores here will be closed and how many of its corporate employees as well as store managers and staff will lose their jobs.
Like everyone else around town, I have my own guess, and it fits pretty closely with a casual survey the Boulder County Business Report did in interviews with several natural "notables" including White Wave founder Steve Demos, Wild Oats founder Mike Gilliland (now opening a new natural foods grocery company called Sunflower Markets and Steve Hoffman, who heads Compass Natural Marketing, a marketing agency focused on the natural foods industry.
In general, the guesswork goes like this: the original Wild Oats store on Broadway, first called Alfalfa's, will remain open especially since it's the closest to the University of Colorado campus and frequented by both students and Hill residents. Smaller, older Wild Oats stores in south Boulder and north Boulder may be on the block.
Wild Oats grocery near its corporate headquarters, still under construction, was touted to be a "model" store where the company would experiment with new layouts, products and ideas. But Whole Foods already considered the site as Twenty Ninth Street suited anchors, and decided instead to expand its present store just a few blocks away in Crossroad Commons. Most pundits are betting it will stick to that strategy.
Other nearby stores, especially the new, larger Wild Oats in Superior, look to be a better fit with the Whole Foods concept of becoming a market leader. Whole Foods' present Boulder store is said to be one of its best-performing locations in its entire chain, so why mess with a proven winner?
North of Boulder, Wild Oats was expected to be the first large natural foods store to enter the growing population and business center of Longmont. Whole Foods probably won't let that opportunity escape.
Boulder loves its Whole Foods, but it wil sorely miss Wild Oats. Other local large grocers, including Safeway and King Soopers, have both added larger natural foods sections so competition here has increased. Good for shoppers, and good for the natural foods companies that now have more grocery shelf space for their products.
CEO John Mackey has his own Whole Foods blog on his company's Web site, but the last post was made in November, and surprisingly he has not yet commented on the company's biggest deal to date. No doubt, he's been a little busy.
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