BY HEATHER WRIGHT — The first Whole Foods Market in Prince George’s County will open April 12 on Baltimore Avenue in Riverdale Park. The 40,000-square-foot store will be the primary anchor for Riverdale Park Station, the mixed-use development by Calvin Cafritz Enterprises that includes 160,000 feet of retail space and 37,000 square feet of office space.

Whole Foods is known for carrying a wide selection of organic foods and promoting local produce and products, and has trademarked the label “America’s healthiest grocery store.” The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers Prince George’s County a “food desert” for its lack of access to groceries or fresh food; the store’s opening will create a food oasis.

“We’re excited to join Riverdale’s vibrant and growing community,” Pia daSilva, the Riverdale store’s team leader, said in a press release. “The store will include many new and locally sourced and seasonal products that meet our high quality standards,” daSilva continued. “Whether you come for the hand-tossed pizza, the custom acai bowl bar or the six types of cold-pressed juice on draft, the store will be a great addition to Riverdale and a new gathering place for the community.”

The store also features self-serve coffee and espresso, bread made daily from scratch, self-serve mochi ice cream, fish smoked in-house and a “real-time feedback feature” that allows customers to text concerns and compliments to Whole Foods Riverdale before they even leave the store.

‘For the community, by the community’

Prince George’s County Councilmember Dannielle Glaros (District 3), whose district includes Riverdale Park, said in an email, “I am thrilled to see the Whole Foods store open. Not only will the store bring quality amenities to the growing Baltimore Avenue corridor, but it will also bring jobs for our residents and opportunities for local entrepreneurs to market their locally sourced products.“

In an interview, daSilva — a Mt. Rainier resident and graduate of the University of Maryland, College Park — said that the store is opening with 170 team members. DaSilva and Rachael Dean Wilson, Whole Foods’ public relations coordinator for mid-Atlantic and South regions, said that the majority are from Prince George’s County. As part of the hiring process, Whole Foods, with the assistance of Councilmember Glaros’ office, partnered with the Greater Riverdale Career Empowerment Center to employ local team members.

Team leader daSilva said she wanted the new store to be a “store for the community, by the community.” “[Being] from the community,” she said, “I definitely feel more of a commitment to the store and its success.”

Riverdale Park Whole Foods has already partnered with local companies, including Delectable Cakery and Honey Glow. Delectable Cakery, a Hyattsville-based bakery, is known for its “DC Sweet Potato Cake.” College Park-based Honey Glow makes skin and personal care products based on beeswax and other natural ingredients. Riverdale’s Whole Foods will also carry produce, chocolate, cheeses and seafood from Maryland, and will continue to add more local products.

Whole Foods has several community programs in place that daSilva is excited about. One day each quarter, a local organization receives 5 percent of the store’s earnings for that day (“5% Day”). Wilson said that Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA)/Prince George’s County will receive 5 percent of all April 19 sales. Art Works was the selected beneficiary of suggested $5 donations from the store community tours on April 9.

With Nickels for Nonprofits, shoppers can donate their 5-cent bag refunds to local nonprofit organizations. The Alice Ferguson Foundation, which works “ to promote the environmental sustainability of the Potomac River watershed,” will be the first recipient.

And through the Whole Kids Foundation, local schools can apply to receive either a salad bar or a school garden. Wilson said that eight schools in Prince George’s County have already participated in this program.

A broader perspective

Riverdale Park’s Whole Foods entered local debate as early as 2006 when the Cafritz family, who owned the 36-acre Riverdale Park Station location since 1954, introduced the idea in community meetings. Whole Foods signed a lease in May 2011, and developers hoped to open the store in 2015.

However, because of the property’s location along the Route 1 Corridor, a number of municipalities and the University of Maryland (UMD) had concerns they wanted addressed, such as traffic and public safety, deforestation and the development’s long-term impacts on roads and schools. The development encountered numerous obstacles and delays, including rezoning from residential to mixed-use town center, reconfiguring stormwater management plans, and negotiating utility relocation and bridge construction.

There were also questions about whether the area could support new stores without hurting other area establishments. Stuart Eisenberg, executive director of the Hyattsville Community Development Corporation (HCDC), discussed how the HCDC-commissioned Route 1 Communities Retail Market Study (April 2012; Bolan Smart Associates, Inc.) demonstrated that the Riverdale Park Station plans were unlikely to saturate the market. Eisenberg said, “It showed that there was the demand and the money available. We could afford to put things in and not have crippling competition.” The analysis, he said, showed that the area could likely support, for example, both the Safeway (which opened in April 2016) and the Whole Foods Market.

Supporters said that the project would attract business, make the area more walkable and boost the local economy. For example, the development is expected to provide more than 460 full-time jobs in retail and food services and bring in county tax revenues of about $5 million annually. A June 2015 Washington Post article focused on the Riverdale Park’s Whole Foods as a symbol of progress for Prince George’s County, indicating that it was attracting young families to the area and boosting home values. The article quoted real estate agent Jean Pirovic as saying, “There’s definitely a Whole Foods effect. It has gotten a lot of people excited about the area.”

Stanley Martin Homes is building 119 townhomes in Riverdale Park Station. Brea DePina, Stanley Martin neighborhood sales manager for Riverdale Park Station, said she has seen a Whole Foods effect: “[Whole Foods] is the one thing every purchaser is initially attracted to about this community.”. DePina said that her selling points for the townhomes were the close proximity to UMD and metro stations, and “the uniqueness of this community being surrounded by a Whole Foods, multiple restaurants and retail.” DePina reported that building one was almost complete and that buildings two and three are underway and should be move-in ready this summer.

In addition to Whole Foods, Riverdale Park Station will be anchored by Starbucks, Gold’s Gym and Burtons Bar and Grill, according to H&R Retail, who assists with lease negotiations. Other tenants include Bella Beach Spa, District Taco, the Habit Burger Grill, Jersey Mike’s Subs, MOD Pizza, xfinity, Old Line Bank and White Oak Therapy. A 120-room Hyatt House hotel and 850 apartment units are also planned for the project, according to previous reports.

Geoffrey Mackler, a leasing agent with H&R Retail, said nine other tenants were under negotiation as of press time. Mackler said that population density, continued growth coming from D.C., access to 9.5 million square feet of office space within a five-mile radius, the close proximity to UMD, the strong sales volume coming from Hyattsville and College Park, and the first Whole Foods in Prince George’s County were selling points for potential tenants.

Eisenberg said that there was a lot of excitement for the new development, especially among people who have moved to the area “within the last five to 10 years.“ Overall, it’s great for the local economy,” he said. “There will be a lot of new jobs.” He compared the new Riverdale Park development to the EYA development in Hyattsville in that both were “a shot in the arm to the neighborhood and showed everyone the underlying strength of our community.”

Eisenberg said that when people from far away travel to a destination like the Whole Foods, it can help other businesses along the route. “[Hyattsville has] a lot of good, quirky places,” he said. “People love quirky places. The more people who discover them on the way to Whole Foods, the better.”

Whole Foods, located at 6621-B Baltimore Ave in Riverdale Park, will open April 12 at 9 a.m. The community is invited to join store and company leaders for a traditional bread-breaking ceremony that day at 8:45 a.m. The store will be open 7 a.m.-10 p.m. each day after.