Healthy grocer Whole Foods taking root in West Ashley Mayor says it’s ‘first concrete step’ toward revitalization in area

Whole Foods Market announced its second Charleston-area store will be built on Savannah Highway in West Ashley. The chain’s Mount Pleasant store (above) opened in 2004.

Whole Foods Market will build a store along U.S. Highway 17 in a busy stretch of West Ashley, a deal that some view as a catalyst for revitalization.

The chain’s second location in the Charleston region will be at the corner of Savannah Highway and Farmfield Drive, beside the long-standing Doscher’s IGA supermarket. It is expected to open in 2017.

City leaders and residents in the area hailed the Texas-based grocer’s decision.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, who lives in West Ashley, campaigned on re-energizing that area of the city and relished the announcement Wednesday near the future store site.

“Last month, in my first State of the City address, I laid out a comprehensive vision for a newly reimagined and revitalized West Ashley — a West Ashley with stronger and more beautiful neighborhoods, better and more responsive citizen services, and a varied and vibrant retail economy. Today, I’m proud to report that we’re taking our first concrete step toward making that vision a reality,” Tecklenburg said.

The grocery chain announced it would expand in the Charleston area last summer, but it did not disclose the exact location until Wednesday.

“West Ashley is a great market and there is a lot of opportunity there,” said Omar Gaye, south region president for Whole Foods. “The Charleston community has been very receptive to us, there is a lot of interest in bringing local, healthy food options, and we are excited to be adding to our roster of stores in the area.”

A corner gas station and day care center at the site will be demolished, according to the mayor. Doscher’s, a fixture since 1974, will remain in business. Co-owner Johnny Doscher declined to comment.

Nearby residents cheered the news of Whole Foods’ arrival.

“I think it’s fantastic,” said Megan Owen, who lives off Bees Ferry Road in West Ashley and works at a hotel near the planned grocery store. “I won’t have to drive to Mount Pleasant anymore.”

Whole Foods’ other Charleston-area location is about 7 miles north on Highway 17 in Patriots Plaza Shopping Center in Mount Pleasant. It opened in 2004 in a former 42,000-square-foot Bi-Lo supermarket. The West Ashley store will be slightly larger at about 45,000 square feet, the company said.

It will be competing for business with nearby supermarkets, including Harris Teeter in St. Andrews Shopping Center and the organic grocer Earth Fare in South Windermere Shopping Center.

A Whole Foods spokeswoman said the company does not expect the opening of a second store in the Charleston market to eat into sales at the Mount Pleasant location.

“Our goal is to be convenient to as many of our current and potential customers as possible given the economics of building and operating a store,” Lauren Bernath said. “We are actively interested in the West Ashley community, and we hope to be able to serve that community with a Whole Foods Market store at this time. We have a team who continuously scouts locations throughout the U.S. to find the best opportunities for Whole Foods Market to put down roots and open a store.”

Charlie Smith, who lives close to the new store site, called the investment “a core building block” for revitalizing West Ashley.

“It will be nice to have a store of Whole Foods’ caliber here,” he said.

Tecklenburg said West Ashley, with about half of the city’s population, “hasn’t gotten the attention it really deserves” and “has been overlooked by national retailers. Now it’s on their radar.”

He plans to apply the same principles of redeveloping Upper King Street in downtown Charleston to areas of West Ashley.

“What better way to start than by providing a quality grocer in this neighborhood,” Tecklenburg said. “With someone of the quality and as well-known as Whole Foods is, it will tip the balance in others thinking of coming to West Ashley.”

He pointed to other struggling areas along Sam Rittenberg Boulevard and Citadel Mall as targets for redevelopment, as well, and added that plans for a West Ashley Farmers Market are moving along.

The focus, he said, will be to put funding in place to spruce up forgotten areas.

Charleston County Councilwoman Colleen Condon, also a West Ashley resident, called the announcement good news for her part of the city.

“Whole Foods is going to help spur growth further down Savannah Highway,” she said.

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.