What Whole Foods’ impending departure could mean for one of the oldest shopping centers in Far North Dallas
Photos by Can Türkyilmaz
The buzz began last summer and by November, it was official: Whole Foods Market will close its anchor store in Dal Rich Village at Coit and Belt Line and move to Addison’s Village on the Parkway in spring 2013.
Although the move is more than one year out, questions loom about the future of Dal Rich as the property owners search for a new grocer anchor.
“Nobody wanted to see Whole Foods go,” says Ian Pierce, spokesman for the center’s brokerage company, The Weitzman Group. “But we see it as an opportunity to bring in a new concept that the clientele will embrace.”
Pierce says he cannot comment or speculate on any potential tenants for the 26,000-square-foot store but says that space could combine with the large vacant storefront next door, almost doubling the space to 50,000 square feet.
Dal Rich is home to a mix of mom-and-pops such as The Fabric Affair and Silver Pyramid as well as chains such as Starbucks and McDonald’s. It also has some empty storefronts, which worry a few nearby business owners.
The space next door to Whole Foods has been vacant for several years, the old Blockbuster store remains unfilled and housed a temporary Halloween store last fall, and smaller tenants have come and gone over the years.
When Jamie and Lynn Wagner moved their specialty salon, J. Michael’s Hair Center, into Dal Rich five years ago, the complex was almost full. The Weitzman Group declines to say what percentage of the center is occupied today.
“I understand people who say businesses come and go,” Lynn Wagner says. “We thought that, too. Now, we’re seeing them go and not come. It gets a little scary. We were told Whole Foods wouldn’t be going anywhere. That’s one of the reasons we decided to move in here.”
Dal Rich opened in 1965 as one of the only shopping destinations in Far North Dallas, which at that time was largely undeveloped north of Belt Line. Whole Foods opened as the anchor in 1988 (following other grocers, including Safeway) and is one of the company’s oldest locations still operating in the region.
Whole Foods spokeswoman Karen Lukin says the company is relocating to Addison for better visibility. The new store will be at the southeast corner of Belt Line and the Dallas North Tollway.
“Addison was a real estate opportunity that was presented to us,” she says. “It’s a prime, visible space in a high-traffic commuter location.”
Moving away from neighborhood-oriented spots and toward commuter locations is not necessarily a trend for Whole Foods, she says. The company opened a store in Fairview off Central Expressway not because of the convenient highway location but because the small suburb did not have a grocery store. The closest grocers to Fairview residents are in Allen and McKinney. At the same time, Whole Foods has very successful flagship stores nestled in Dallas neighborhoods such as Preston Hollow and Lakewood.
The new Addison location will have 40,000 square feet to create a more expansive and modern store, and it will be just three miles from Dal Rich.
“It’s very important to us that we serve the community and the neighborhood. And sometimes, those are one in the same,” Lukin says. “We’ll be serving a lot of the same people. It’s a great opportunity to not go too far away from the people who have been shopping there for a quarter of a century.”
In addition, two other health-food stores have since opened in Far North Dallas just up the road at Coit and Campbell — Natural Grocers and Sprouts. There’s also Central Market at Coit and the George Bush Turnpike in Plano.
“It’s certainly more competitive than it used to be,” Lukin says.
Addison doesn’t have those rivals. Whole Foods will be its first and long-awaited high-end grocer.
So, where does that leave Dal Rich? The Weitzman Group is not just looking for Whole Foods alternatives.
“They operate in a niche,” Pierce says of Whole Foods’ organic and health-oriented philosophy. “Each grocer has its own value. Many people just want something traditional where you’ve got home goods, and you can go to the pharmacy.”
Besides Natural Grocers and Sprouts, other stores within a three-mile radius of Dal Rich include: a Kroger across the street; three Tom Thumbs at Coit and Campbell, Preston and Belt Line, and Arapaho and Waterview; the Walmart Neighborhood Market at Arapaho and Roundrock; and the Albertson’s at Hillcrest and Arapaho.
The options seem limited for Dal Rich, but Pierce says the positive demographics for the area suggest otherwise. There are 18,449 people and 6,549 households living within one mile of the shopping center, and the average household incomes surpass $89,000, he says.
“So, you’ve got high density and strong incomes.”
Pierce says four leases are pending for empty storefronts throughout the center with more negotiations in the works. Whole Foods’ next-door neighbor Dollar Tree hasn’t kept potential tenants away either. In fact, the discount store has a reputation for opening in upscale shopping centers and, in some cases, under new construction, Pierce says. Examples include the Rockwall Marketplace, the Vineyard Village in Euless and Montgomery Plaza in Fort Worth.
“I was a little upset that a discount store moved in,” Lynn says. “But they’ve kept the place looking nice. My high-end clients shop there all the time.”
J. Michael’s serves a niche clientele, including chemotherapy patients in need of hair replacement, so the Wagners don’t rely on general traffic from the center. That’s the case with many neighborhood shops in Dal Rich, such as Madras Pavilion, the famous Indian Kosher restaurant, and the Fabric Affair sewing retailer, which has had a loyal following since it opened in 1991.
“People walk in and out of Whole Foods all the time and never look to the right,” says Fabric Affair co-owner Judy Mack. “So, it hasn’t affected our business. I don’t anticipate moving. If I did, it wouldn’t be because of Whole Foods.”
The fast-casual chain Jason’s Deli has thrived in Dal Rich and just renovated its store in August. Open since 1990, it’s one of the oldest locations in the country. Jason’s Deli spokesman Daniel Helfman isn’t concerned about losing the anchor tenant.
“It’s a deli that’s always doing well,” he says. “That’s why we renovated it. We’re not going anywhere. We have a loyal clientele there. It’s not really an issue to us.”
Other shop owners do feel some connection to the “Whole Foods identity.” The Silver Pyramid crystal shop, Love Thyself Day Spa and lawyer Jim Hunt have holistic approaches to their businesses.
“We have that kind of environment here,” says Hunt, whose law office features Buddha statues and aromatic incense. “I like being able to say ‘We’re just down from the Whole Foods.’ ”
But whether or not stores operate in a niche market, businesses that find themselves clustered together in a shopping center still depend on each other in order to thrive as a whole — and for that, they need on a strong anchor.
“We don’t want this to turn into a ghost town,” Lynn says. “Crime goes up. That’s the first thing that will happen. Then, the area will deteriorate. An anchor store gives small businesses something to latch on to. In this day and time, small businesses are diminishing daily.”