Whole Foods Market on Friday opened a new store in New York’s historic Harlem neighborhood, and for some vendors, Harlem also came to Whole Foods.
The 40,000-square-foot store, which was originally announced by the Austin, Texas-based natural food retailer five years ago, highlighted a few unique offerings tailored for the diverse neighborhood such as the chain’s first kebab grill, Cuban sandwich station and Cuban-style coffee stand.
Around 20 local product vendors were also on display for the first time, many brought to the store through a local vendor development program run by Harlem Park To Park, an organization of neighborhood-based entrepreneurs, in partnership with Whole Foods and other local groups, said Lucia Albero, a marketing manager for Whole Foods.
Mama’s One Sauce, a line of spicy marinades, was one such vendor. Named for “Mama” Vy Higginsen, the noted local author, playwright and television personality, the sauce sales benefitted her Sing Harlem choir, a free gospel group for teens that will make weekly performances at the store, and performed Friday as part of the opening ceremonies.
The Sing Harlem Choir performs gospel outside a new Whole Foods store Friday in Harlem. Sales of Mama's One Sauce, a brand the store carries through a local vendor development program, supports the group.
“For us, Harlem always meant good food and good music,” Higginsen said in an interview at the store Friday. “We never want the history of the music to die, so its important that young people are aware and have appreciation for who we are and where we come from musically. And for us [Harlem residents], we’d eat and we’d sing. That was also an important part of the culture of Harlem, so I’m glad that these things have come together.”
Other Harlem brands on shelves included spices and rubs from Sylvia’s, Egunsi Foods’ packaged West African soups, the Harlem Pie Man’s 6-inch pies and Ginjan’s traditional African beverages.
Like the Whole Foods store that opened in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood last summer, the Harlem Whole Foods utilizes a two-level layout with checkout, a coffee bar and food-to-go food stations on the street level, and grocery, produce, meat, seafood, bulk and Whole Body selections on a lower level.
The store is located in Central Harlem, right at the 125 Street stop of the 2/3 subway at 125th and Lenox Avenue. Its opening is expected to bring new competition to a Fairway Market on the far west end of Harlem, as well as a Costco and Aldi that opened several years ago on the far East side of the neighborhood.
“We are thrilled to serve the historic and vibrant Harlem community, where I personally have many fond childhood memories,” said Damon Young, store team leader for Whole Foods Market Harlem. “Our many Harlem community partners have helped us create a wonderful store that enables us to provide local jobs, support community artisans and serve Harlem residents with the highest quality natural and organic foods.”