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Whole Foods opens in Bellingham to crowd of shoppers, protest

Festivities, protest mark opening of Bellingham Whole Foods

The new Bellingham Whole Foods grocery store opens in Bellingham, Wednesday morning, May 11. A large crowd listened to speakers and watched a group protesting for farm workers rights before entering the store.
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The new Bellingham Whole Foods grocery store opens in Bellingham, Wednesday morning, May 11. A large crowd listened to speakers and watched a group protesting for farm workers rights before entering the store.

Hundreds of shoppers and a few dozen protesters were on hand for the opening ceremony of the Whole Foods grocery store in the Lakeway Center on Wednesday, May 11.

For the shoppers, Wednesday was a chance to check out what the 50,000-square-foot natural foods store at 1030 Lakeway Drive had to offer. While many did have a few items in carts and baskets, quite a few were browsing the different departments, trying out samples and talking to employees and vendors.

They offer food that Bellingham people want. I think they’ll be very successful here.

Kenna Bird, Whole Foods customer

Western Washington University students Gabby Hagemark and Kenna Bird were excited the store finally opened in Bellingham. Bird, who has been in Whole Foods stores before, said she was spending opening day checking out the bakery as well as gluten-free options.

“They offer food that Bellingham people want,” Bird said. “I think they’ll be very successful here.”

Around 40 protesters arrived about 20 minutes before the 9 a.m. breaking of the bread ceremony with signs, music and a megaphone. They were there to protest the selling of Driscoll’s berries at the store. Driscoll’s buys some of its berries from Sakuma Brothers Farm of Skagit County, where farm workers are protesting work conditions while also attempting to get a union contract with the farm. The protesters shouted chants and talked about worker wages during some of the Whole Foods planned speeches.

The opening ceremonies continued, and employees handed out bread to customers as the store opened soon after 9 a.m., with the protesters dispersing soon after.

After the opening ceremony, Whole Foods Regional President Joe Rogoff said they did their research before deciding to sell Driscoll’s berries — like they do with all the products they sell. He added that the protesters have a right to come and object.

“I don’t like to out-shout people and would prefer a dialogue with them,” Rogoff said.

As for Bellingham, Rogoff said he was particularly happy to get a store open in this community.

“It’s really the community that brought us here,” Rogoff said, noting that they received a huge amount of emails and letters from people requesting that Whole Foods open in Bellingham.

At the time of the opening the Lakeway Center parking lot was packed, with many people opting to park at nearby businesses and side streets. Inside the store customers strolled through produce, meat, bakery, whole body, frozen and dairy departments talking to vendors. Also drawing interest were the juice/coffee bar as well as Far North, which makes pizza from Wood Stone ovens. The pizza restaurant also serves several Bellingham beers on tap, offering to can them with their “crowler” machine.

“We want to be a community gathering place,” Rogoff said. “Our mission is to make the world eat better.”

Susan Livingston, head of marketing for Whole Foods Market in the Pacific Northwest, talks about why Whole Foods chose to open a store in Bellingham and offers a look around the new store on Monday, May 9, in Bellingham, Wash. The Whole Foods stor

A shopping cart tour of Whole Foods Market as employees put final touches on store before grand opening on Monday, May 9, in Bellingham, Wash. The store will open on Wednesday, May 11.

Dave Gallagher: 360-715-2269, @BhamHeraldBiz

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