Whole Foods in Bellingham nearly ready for May 11 opening

The Lakeway Center was a beehive of activity Monday, May 9 as Whole Foods workers prepared for its opening later this week. It will be the first Whole Foods in Whatcom County.

The grocery store will have its bread-breaking ceremony at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, May 11, with plans to open the store at 9 a.m. During the ceremony Whole Foods will present a $2,000 gift to the Bellingham Farmers Market and have other opening day events at 1030 Lakeway Drive. Once open, store hours will be 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day.

There’s plenty to do before any bread breaking can be done, however. On Monday morning, the company was training employees at various departments, making bakery products and bringing in flowers, with fruits and vegetables still on the way. Along with people from the company brought in to help with the opening, this store has 135 employees, 115 of which were hired locally, said Susan Livingston, executive marketing coordinator.

Along with the Whole Foods private label and other national brands, customers will find Washington state products from more than 300 vendors, including many in Whatcom County. One company they reached out to was Bellingham’s Aslan Brewing Co., which created a new beer called Illmatic IPA that will be sold only at the store and the brewery at 1330 N. Forest St.

Aslan co-owner Jack Lamb said they were impressed by Whole Foods’ commitment to finding locally made products, when it would have been easy to just bring in national beer brands.

Several local beers will be found on tap at Far North, which is the pizza restaurant in the east portion of the store. Customers also can order crowlers, which is a take on the beer growler but uses a special machine to give customers their favorite tap beer canned in seconds. The cans are more convenient and safe for outdoor activities, said Leah Abell, marketing associate coordinator, during a tour of the store. Far North also has installed two ovens from Wood Stone in Bellingham to cook the pizza.

Nearby is an area where people can order other lunch and dinner items to go, including burritos, tacos and deli sandwiches.

At the front of the store is a coffee and juice bar. Other departments include produce, bakery, fish/meat and a “whole body” area that includes soaps and lotions.

For the food and other products that are not local, they go through a third-party verification process called Whole Trade, Abell said. That includes working with third-party certifiers to provide for fair trade, fair worker compensation and healthy ecosystems.

Whole Foods has a reputation for high prices, but Abell said the store has high-quality products at low prices with its private label, 365. Abell added that the stores also offer discounts on some items that are bought in bulk.

At about 50,000 square feet, the Bellingham store is larger than a typical Whole Foods. The company is filling an anchor space in the larger retail center; that space has been occupied by several grocery stores over the years, including the Market at Lakeway and a Cost Cutter.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz