Austin Notes: What Decadence!
Well, they will be, because they’re now at the 80,000–square–foot flagship store of Whole Foods on Sixth and Lamar, which opened March 3 at the base of the company’s future world headquarters building. I went there yesterday for the first time, the crowds having thinned out a little, and I’m as boggled as I expected to be. We’ve long had a flagship Whole Foods branch—plus a bigger, better, friendlier store than that, the HEB chain’s Cental Market—but this new one is the 650–pound sumo wrestler of gourmet supermarkets. It’s got the familiar Whole Foods sanitized ambience and the familiar Whole Foods prices ($7.99 for standard farm–raised catfish filets, $3.99–4.99 at ordinary stores). The parking lot traffic was brisk and well–mannered, and the store aisles were full of tan middle–aged blondes and their manicured husbands carrying baskets in an edenic daze. I didn’t notice that the cash registers were all that busy—I didn’t see any throngs pushing loaded carts out of the store, and I didn’t buy anything myself—but I’m sure that the prices and the café sales will keep the numbers up in the event of low grocery volume.
What it reminds me of is the 1984 Robin Williams movie Moscow on the Hudson, in which a Soviet circus troupe visits Manhattan. All during their journey, their loyal Communist overseer warns them not to succumb to Western decadence. Then they get a special tour of Bloomingdale’s, which opens early just for them. As the doors open, they rush forward in disbelief and wonder, and the Communist overseer pushes ahead of them all, shouting ecstatically, “What decadence!”
(And I haven’t even mentioned the new branch of Half Price Books that just opened in a defunct supermarket building down the road—a gourmet supermarket of used books, with a separate Rare Book room inside, and checkout lines an hour long on opening day last week.)