Impatient Whole Foods fans wonder: Where’s the Exton store?

The exterior of a new Whole Foods in Exton is complete but the chain has yet to do work on the interior. It now appears the store won’t open until next year.
The exterior of a new Whole Foods in Exton is complete but the chain has yet to do work on the interior. It now appears the store won’t open until next year. Pete Bannan – Digital First Media
The interior of a new Whole Foods in Exton has been awaiting work for months. It now appears the store won’t open until next year.
The interior of a new Whole Foods in Exton has been awaiting work for months. It now appears the store won’t open until next year. Pete Bannan – Digital First Media

WEST WHITELAND >> Foodies concerned about the lack of activity at the under-construction Exton Whole Foods are being assured that their favorite grocery store chain has not forgotten them.

“We are moving forward with the Exton store as planned,” a Whole Foods spokeswoman, Rachael Dean Wilson, wrote in an emailed response to a reporter’s question. “I don’t have an update for you regarding an opening date at this time, but will keep you posted as additional information becomes available regarding timeline.”

Area fans of Whole Foods have expressed their concerns on social media as the shell of the new supermarket has been completed for months but no construction activity has taken place inside.

Mimi Gleason, West Whiteland’s township manager, said Wednesday Whole Foods received the permits it needs to fit out the inside of the store two or three weeks ago. The work on the exterior shell of the building was done by the owner of the Exton Square Mall, PREIT (Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust), she noted.

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“It’s been two or three months” since PREIT finished the outside construction, she said, acknowledging the pace at which Whole Foods is moving is slower than normal.

“They certainly are not in a hurry,” she said. “Usually, developers are working an hour after they get their permits.”

On its website, West Whiteland lists fall of 2018 as the expected time for the Whole Foods to open, but Gleason said that was more of an estimate than a hard expectation.

“We expect it to open in 2018,” the township manager said.

PREIT announced in July 2015 that it would tear down an existing Kmart and replace it with a Whole Foods. At the time, and subsequently, PREIT said the Whole Foods would open in 2017. Whole Foods will be leasing the space from PREIT under the arrangement.

Heather Crowell, senior vice president of corporate communications and investor relations at PREIT, agreed with Gleason that the opening will be pushed back to 2018.

“But I have to defer to Whole Foods for specific timing, given that construction is in their hands,” she said. “We are very excited for the opening of the store and look forward to what Whole Foods brings to the area.”

Whole Foods is one of several additions at the mall meant to meet changing consumer habits. The other major change at Exton Square Mall was the opening of a Round 1 entertainment center in a former JC Penney department store. Nationwide, many department store chains have closed locations due to the popularity of online shopping.

Whole Foods, meanwhile, is cherished by its fans for its health-conscious and organic offerings.

One of those fans who lives near the Exton location – and who has been waiting to see progress in its construction – is Paul Tomkiewicz.

“I’m actually a big fan of Wegmans because I think they offer a good balance between quality and cost, but their closest location is in Downingtown. I don’t mind driving the 15 minutes each way, but I’m looking forward to having an option closer to home,” Tomkiewicz explained. “There are no other premium grocery stores in the immediate area. Sometimes I end up at the Giant around the corner in a pinch, but I tend to prefer the higher quality and healthier varieties that stores like Whole Foods offer. The apparent delay in construction or any progress has started to generate some buzz around town.”

Ernest Baskin, assistant professor of food marketing at Saint Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, said Whole Foods has always been a leader in the organic space.

“Its positioning has generally been high end as it carries a wide range of items that you cannot necessarily get anywhere else,” Baskin said. “Its fans shop at Whole Foods for the firm’s philosophy as well as product quality and the sustainability of the products that it carries.”

Recently, however, the Austin, Texas-based chain has been the subject of sale rumors and a battle with shareholders.

A recent report suggested Acme’s parent company, Albertsons, could be interested. Also listed in national report as possible suitors: Kroger, Florida-based supermarket chain Publix, and online retail giant Amazon.

Whole Foods currently operates over 460 stores in the U.S., Canada and U.K.

Whole Foods fans in Exton aren’t the only ones in the region who are waiting. According to a recent report, a Whole Foods that was expected to be up and running by this July at Ellis Preserve in Newtown Square, won’t be. In spite of the delay, the developer of the project told the Philadelphia Business Journal he is confident the supermarket will eventually operate a store from the site.

– To contact Business Editor Brian McCullough, call 610-235-2655 or send an email to bmccullough@dailylocal.com.