Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXII, No. 16
Wednesday, April 16, 2008
Coldwell Banker Princeton Office

Prudential Fox and Roach, Realtors

Gloria Nilson GMAC Real Estate

Henderson Sotheby's International Realty

N.T. Callaway Princeton Office

Stockton Real Estate, LLC

Weichert, Realtors

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Iris Interiors

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Weather Forecast

The Little Green Market That Could: Whole Earth Center Expands Horizons

Matthew Hersh

The Whole Earth at 360 Nassau Street is celebrating its 2,400-square-foot expansion into what used to be Judy’s Flower Shop. It may not be one of the big-box markets yet but it has finally answered the needs of its growing client base while retaining the counterculture sensibility that launched it in 1970.

These days, however, the concept of alternative marketing has entered the commercial mainstream. Organic? Local-farmer friendly? Seasonal produce? Solar powered? Check all of the above. LEED? Well, the verdict is still out, but there is a high likelihood that the store will be compliant with the U.S. Green Building Council’s environmental and energy design standards.

It wasn’t easy though. The expanded area had been under construction for nearly a year, generating 64,000 pounds of material that, given normal construction circumstances, would have been buried in the ground. Eighty-nine percent of the construction waste was reused creating what is, literally, a healthy building, inside and out. You don’t have to change the corporate culture to achieve this type of construction, though it helps to have the right team on board.

“It’s really in line with what they’ve been doing for the past 38 years,” said Ronald Berlin, the project’s architect. “It’s a challenge to design the architecture to accommodate all of these practical considerations, but also have it sort of speak eloquently, modestly, about the Whole Earth Center.”

Now when you walk into the new entrance, you’re immediately given the option of heading toward what is termed “live food” freshly made at the deli; off to the left, you can get your bulk food. Further to the left are the produce and other groceries.

While the place hardly resembles, at least visually, the traditional image of Whole Earth Center, the familiar purple sign, with its prominent placement, and the familiar faces inside remind a shopper that this is a cultural event, as well as a retail enterprise. In that regard, it’s reminiscent of the Princeton Record Exchange: embracing core clientele, all the while adjusting the business model for contemporary reality.

“You have to up the bar a bit when it comes to bringing a project like this to fruition,” said Fran McManus, a long-time market coordinator for Whole Earth.

That includes working with customers and gauging feedback, she added. As for the actual design component, Mr. Berlin pointed to four board members, all with strong ideas, knowledge of history, and a sense of direction.

“There was a real desire to keep this as a simple food store, you know, a market,” he said. “For me, this has been a revelation because every day, I go down there and buy food. It’s nice to be able to walk into a food store, buy fresh ingredients, and take a seat and enjoy it there.” Overlooking Nassau Street, the new dining area doubles as something of a community room. During any given weekday, the place is packed with moms and strollers, at least until the after-school crowd rolls in.The view of Nassau is through recycled glass from the old flower market, reinforced for safety and increased energy efficiency.


Alex Levine, Whole Earth deli manager and chef, said that the spacious new environs shouldn’t put off customers.

“We have more equipment, more room, and overall more capacity to create more food,” he said pointing to even the look of the display cases: “Everything befits the food that we’re selling here.”

An expanded menu, including sandwiches, soups, and an increased line of deli salads is on the way, Mr. Levine said, but all in good time. There are signature items like the rice and nut loaf, a Whole Earth salad (“Kale and lots of other things,” Mr. Levine said) and the shredded veggie salad. It’s all organic, and, when possible, locally grown.

Listening to the customer, Mr. Levine said, would be his first priority in these first few weeks of operating in the expanded store. “Every place I’ve worked in has a culture, and you learn something everywhere, but the culture of this place, coupled with what we can provide to our customers, is truly enjoyable. We have a great group of people here.”

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