Why Having a Whole Foods in Montana Might Not Be Good News
News that Whole Foods is finally bringing its grocery chain to Montana could be taken a couple of ways. First, it's another example of Montana consumers becoming increasingly accustomed to having the same options as larger, more populated states, like California.
But second, one has to wonder if it's yet another retail-nail-in-the-coffin of the Montana grocery store landscape with the old-timey general store on one horizon, and local supermarkets on the other. And Bozeman becomes the turning point.
I can recall as a little kid staying with my grandparents when they lived in Manhattan, and Grandma would dispatch me to L&F Market downtown, usually to get a loaf of bread or something similar. It was a perfect adventure for a 6-year-old in those days, learning to cross the street, walking by the scary meat counter, taking careful track of the money, and returning the straight 4-block shot home. Now I suspect she was just honing my shopping skills.
Today, the L&F still stands in the historic brick building downtown. They even have a website with cool recipes for things like Slow Cooker Cranberry Glazed Ham and, I swear this is true, a Pigs in a Blanket Wreath. Try asking for that in the new Whole Foods!
A larger example of local is the famous Lee and Dad's Store in Belgrade.
My mom, a Belgrade girl, recalls how "everyone knew Dad", and the excitement when his son Lee joined forces. Moving to a larger location, Lee and Dad's was our "go-to" store for everything with amazing customer service. When we'd run out of supplies in the middle of my uncle's "Gallatin Valley Steam Show and Threshing Bee", all it took was a call and a run to town. In fact, customer service was so good they learned to actually stock extra hot dogs for the event.
Lee and Dad's sold and became Town and Country in 2015, but is still the choice for longtime locals.
Those are just two examples of how we've bought our Montana groceries for generations. Even the more "organic" options are already covered with great operations like Missoula's Good Food Store.
So is there room under the Big Sky for Whole Foods?
Sure. And one could argue more choices are better for consumers. Certainly, the company's "Just Walk Out Technology", being tried at a handful of stores, represents unusual innovation, as does efforts to use remote ordering through parent company Amazon.
And if you don't like Whole Foods there's always Alaska and South Dakota.
Yet, one has to wonder if Whole Foods' arrival doesn't mark more than just store choice, but the eventual loss of the kind of local choice that's made Montana unique.
Time will tell if that's the "Whole" story.
In the meantime, I think I'll put a dollar deep in my pocket and walk to the L&F just to remember my Grandma and the best of simple shopping.