Whole Foods Market joins Brookside skyline

Construction on the Whole Foods Market in Brookside has been met with opposition from surrounding businesses as well as support from students and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Construction has been underway on the corner of 51st and Oak Streets since June 2015. The Whole Foods, parking garage, and apartment complex are expected to be complete between late 2017 and early 2018. photo by Helen Krause

Construction has been underway on the corner of 51st and Oak Streets since June 2015. The Whole Foods, parking garage, and apartment complex are expected to be complete between late 2017 and early 2018. photo by Helen Krause

by Gabby Staker and Helen Krause

story by Gabby Staker

Since breaking ground in June 2015, the development group Van Trust Real Estate has watched their addition to the Brookside skyline grow. The three-acre apartment and Whole Foods complex at the corner of 51st Street and Oak is expected to open between late 2017 and early 2018.

Whole Foods Market prides itself on offering “a place for you to shop where value is inseparable from values,” according to its website. While most St. Teresa’s Academy students would agree they have carried that mission into construction at their new Brookside location, some Kansas Citians might disagree as controversies afflict surrounding neighborhoods and local businesses.

Brookside resident Janet Howard has lived in the area for 29 years and has spent the last 19 two houses up from where Brookside Boulevard meets 52nd Street. Even though Whole Foods will open a few blocks from her house, Howard cites expense as a deterrent from regular use. She laughed as she said, “Some people call it Whole Paycheck.”

Howard, like many in her community, will make initial trips to Whole Foods out of curiosity. The extent of her business at the new grocery store will be for “health food items” like astragalus, a Chinese herb Howard buys to boost her immune system.

She is concerned about the “little grocery store at 43rd and Main,” Nature’s Own, to which she hopes to still give business. “I worry about them closing with the Whole Foods,” Howard said.

Nature’s Own is not the breadth of the Whole Foods Market’s conglomerate impact. According to Howard, the Colonial Shops, across from the construction on 51st Street have suffered the most and “really taken it on the chin.”

Rockhurst High School graduate and Kansas City native Donnie Quinn III manages Kin Lin, a Chinese restaurant across 51st Street from the Whole Foods construction. Quinn references an overall decrease in business as Kin Lin has experienced significant cuts in parking space. Customers can’t park on the south side of the street anymore, whereas before, they were able to park up and down the street for quick carry-out.

While most of their regulars have shown support for the restaurant, Quinn admits it has been difficult for elderly customers to access.

“A lot of our customers– almost every other one– you could ask them, and they would say, ‘I’ve been eating at Kin Lin for five years. I’ve been eating at Kin Lin for ten years,’” Quinn said. “We’ll even have people who have been eating at Kin Lin for 25 years since it opened.”

According to Quinn, Kin Lin’s relationship with Van Trust has been “hit or miss” and “touch-and-go.” He feels as though the developers are focused on placating the concerns of the Colonial Shops.
“I think they knew what was going to be coming up and they knew that it was going to be dramatic and we didn’t exactly know how intensely things would impact us from the very beginning,” Quinn said.

Kin Lin has been “working closely” with neighboring restaurants Pizza 51 and Crows Coffee to advocate for their businesses. Quinn says on occasion they have taken measures as extreme as alerting the news and hiring lawyers for representation.

“I don’t want Van Trust to sound horrible,” Quinn said. “I don’t want it to sound like I’m saying they’re terrible people or something like that… Our relationship has been rocky at times but we’ve been making attempts to stay on good terms.”

In addition to a Whole Foods, Van Trust’s complex will include 170 apartment units on six levels, a six level parking garage and the UMKC student health center. Howard doesn’t mind the apartments on top. Her main concern is the Trolley Trail.

She and her neighbors were upset when initial plans included an entrance and exit onto Brookside Boulevard, which would cut through the Trolley Trail. Howard believes the issue was resolved with a new plan for a driveway onto Oak Street.

“A lot of us who live around here walk our dogs or people jog and run or people have their kids in a stroller,” Howard said. “We didn’t want to get run over by people coming in and out of Whole Foods.”

Despite those minor issues, which she saw resolved, Howard has been pleased by the understanding of the developers, who offered a $10 gift card to Crows Coffee to locals checking NextDoor.com– a website that allows Van Trust to post updates about construction for the community.

UMKC freshman Sydney Garcia is excited for Whole Foods to open. She says she values fresh produce, regardless of the cost. She hopes that as people become increasingly health-conscious, “UMKC students will look past price to get good products.”

Garcia is one of around 15,000 University of Missouri-Kansas City students who will have access to the Student Health and Wellness Center, UMKC Counseling Services and the Office of Services for Students with Disabilities, once they relocate to the Van Trust complex.

According to UMKC Student Health and Wellness Center administrator Scott Thompson, the move is a positive one. “It will be great for the students to have all three services closer on the Volker campus,” Thompson wrote. “We currently are located on 4825 Troost and [it] can be difficult for students to get to our location.”

He is encouraged by an environment where students can “survive and thrive.” Thompson writes, “Whole Foods is a community want/need. UMKC saw an opportunity to partner with Whole Foods to bring an organic grocery closer to the Brookside/Waldo community and the benefit for the students would be the possibility of closer services listed above. Without this collaboration, we may not have had the funding to have this possibility for our students.”