I’ve written numerous times, most recently this past December, that one of the things that is so special about Bellingham is that local businesses are thriving here. It’s an integral part of our identity as a small city. And, local businesses are thriving mostly because we take pride in that identity and commit to support our local businesses, even at times when prices are cheaper elsewhere, because we know that the owners of these businesses are our neighbors and friends.
Another component of Bellingham’s identity is our commitment to sustainability, in terms of environmental protection and restoration, sustainable agriculture, sustainable building practices, etc.
So, you see this conflict between those two aspects of our identity when we consider the arrival of Whole Foods. While not a locally-owned business, it is a market that features natural and organic foods, including non-GMO products.
Problem is, we already have two outstanding local natural foods markets, the Bellingham Community Food Co-Op, with two locations, and Terra Organic & Natural Foods, both conduct themselves more like communities than businesses, and both contribute to a wide variety of community events and non-profit organizations.
I find the practices of these large chain stores disturbing, how they move into communities that have existing, local businesses offering similar goods and services, without any apparent concern for how they will take business away from those who were here first, wielding their corporate power against mom and pop shops, or, in the case of the Community Food Co-Op, member owners, businesses that don’t have the resources to compete fairly.
In the Herald article, a Whole Foods executive is quoted:
Bellingham is a terrific market. It’s been a long time coming…The right site was there, the right partner and developer was there, the right mix in terms of competition and suppliers. We just think the time is perfect…Our primary interest is in Whatcom County. It’s a very strong market in itself.
Now, I have no doubt that Whole Foods is confident that the market is strong enough for them to open here and succeed, but I’m just as confident that they do not consider the fact that their success could imperil the pre-existing locally-owned natural food markets.
Consider the Core Values section of their website, where you’ll find a menu of pages on a variety of topics, including one titled We Serve And Suport Our Local And Global Communities.
Sounds nice, but of course there’s no mention of their impact on similar local businesses. Why, that wouldn’t be flattering at all!
I wish I had more time to dig deeper on this topic. There are sources I’ve consulted on the impact of chain stores, which deserves elaboration, and there is the sticky fact that some local natural food producers might do better if they can sell their products at Whole Foods, and perhaps I’ll get to these topics in future posts.
For now, mine is a more personal expression of distaste for this news, rather than a thorough analysis.
I doubt we can stop Whole Foods from coming, they are already leasing the property they’ll be moving into.
But, we can make the choice to not shop there, and to continue to support the Co-Op and Terra.