Whole Foods Confirms a Summer Visit

Old Plitt Ford Building
Whole Foods will be taking up residence, at least for this summer, in the commercial heart of Wainscott. Morgan McGivern

    Whole Foods Market has signed a short-term lease to rent the former Plitt Ford dealership on Montauk Highway in Wainscott for the summer, a company spokesman said on Tuesday.
    “We’re going to do a pop-up store,” said Michael Sinatra, a spokesman for the national chain. “It’s going to be a farmers market. We’re very excited about being out there.”
    In an e-mail sent Tuesday, Mr. Sinatra said that “during the next couple of weeks, the Whole Foods Market team will be outfitting the space and creating a temporary store to service the area through the summer months, offering a variety of fresh produce, specialty items, and more.”
    While the actual opening date is not yet set, he said the market would most likely be open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
    According to Gregg Saunders, the owner of the site, whose plan for a 17,500-square-foot retail store on the property is working its way through the East Hampton Town planning process, this summer will be a test for both him and Whole Foods to determine the long-term viability of a hub store at that location.
    It has been Mr. Saunders’s preference to lease to a gourmet food store as opposed to a major drugstore or furniture chain.
    “This is going to cost them a fortune,” he said last Thursday about the test run, adding that he has been negotiating with Whole Foods for the last several months, telling them, “People are begging for you out here.” Mr. Saunders owns several other buildings in the Northeast that are leased by Whole Foods.
    “It went from ‘No, no, no’ to ‘Let’s see how this works,’ ” he said of his conversations with Whole Foods executives. “Then, at the end of the summer, we can decide.”
    Some nearby merchants are welcoming the news.
    “I would love it,” said Colin Mather, owner of the Seafood Shop a few doors down on Montauk Highway. “Dead space next to your business is never a good thing. Something like that, even though they sell fish, we would feed off one another.”
    “More good food in the area means more people and more business for all of us,” Brad Thompson, an owner at Breadzilla, said yesterday. He acknowledged that there would be competition, but said there would also be “complementation.”
    Mr. Saunders’s longer-term plans to construct a new “hub store” on the property passed a big hurdle on April 4, when the planning board voted 6 to 0 (Bob Schaeffer was absent) that further environmental review was not required for the site, and — citing Mr. Saunders’s cooperation with the Town Planning Department and the board — specifically asked that his application be fast-tracked. The board noted that there had been no public opposition to the project, with the exception of concern expressed at a public hearing about increased traffic, a matter that was not explored in great detail.
    The Wainscott Citizens Advisory Committee is scheduled to discuss Mr. Saunders’s application, as well as others pending in Wainscott, at its meeting on Saturday at 9 a.m. at the Wainscott Chapel.
    “This is the gateway to our community,” said Patrick Schutte, a planning board member, “and this is going to be a vast, vast improvement to what’s there, and it is going to far outweigh any detriment of the traffic, I don’t know how traffic can get any worse.”
    “It is a well-thought-out plan,” said Reed Jones, the board’s chairman. “The benefits clearly outweigh the negatives. It is a huge plus when you have someone willing to take the time and money to redevelop a building that is . . . ”
    “ . . . Is an eyesore,” the board’s vice chairwoman, Diana Weir, interjected.
    Mr. Reed laughed and agreed.
    “I appreciate seeing someone willing to come in and invest his money in our community,” Mr. Schutte added.
    “Are we at a stage now where we can simply say, we feel it is ready for approval and we can move to the resolution at the next meeting?” Mr. Jones asked the planning director, Marguerite Wolffsohn, after the board’s vote.
    Ms. Wolffsohn told the board that the next step was to send the plan to the Suffolk County Planning Department, and once that departmewnt approved it, the planning board could move to a resolution.
    “Is there nothing we can do to expedite it?” Mr. Reed asked.
    Ms. Weir, a veteran of town and county politics, replied that it was, indeed, possible for the planning board to express its desire to the county that the matter be expedited.
    Can the Whole Foods Market’s three-month visit to Wainscott turn into year-round residency?
    “It’s going to be up to the town, and the people of East Hampton,” Mr. Saunders said.