COLLEGEVILLE >>It may have taken years to happen, but Collegeville Shopping Center once again has a booming anchor store.
Fittingly, natural foods regional chain Kimberton Whole Foods (KWF) opens Wednesday at 8 a.m. on the site of the center’s former anchor, Acme markets, offering shoppers more upscale amenities than any of its other five stores, including a larger but cozy café with unique sandwiches, specialty coffee and a smoothie bar; hot foods and salad bar; expanded produce and floral departments; artisan cheese and a full-fledged deli with sliced meats and cheese.
Collegeville resident Steve Fleisher couldn’t have been happier about the 32-year-old family-operated icon with the sunflower logo finally arriving in his neighborhood.
“We’ve been frequenting their stores since the beginning. The Kimberton store was a 20-minute ride, which isn’t terrible, but it will be nice to have a two-minute ride now,” Fleisher said at a preview bash held at the store on Monday evening. “They have all kinds of natural products and organic stuff. If you come here for lunch, the food they prepare for you is unbelievable. Plus, they have all kinds of vitamins and supplements, you name it.”
Converting an outdated supermarket into KWF’s sparkling sixth location was no easy task, owner Terry Brett noted.
“Architect Joel Bartlett came in to a blank space and you really need to have imagination to see what it could look like,” Brett said.
The construction crew, headed up by Brett’s son, Ezra Brett, gutted the entire interior and settled in with the distinctive KWF imprint that includes a full commercial kitchen and 100 percent LED lighting, perched high above the aisles.
“A lot of our grab-and-go food comes from our commissary in Downingtown, which supplies all of the stores, but our goal is to produce all the food right here. This is the biggest kitchen we’ve ever put in,” Brett explained.
Memories of nearly leasing space in a center down the road in Trappe — now the home of Goodwill — faded fast when Brixmore Property Group gradually edged its way into the picture.
“Brixmore was a delight to work with. They met us more than halfway,” Brett said of his new landlord. “We like to be a community-based business, and everybody from the Collegeville Borough to the Economic Development Corporation to the people who gave us the variance for our signs was very supportive.”
The freezer cases were packed and ready for opening day with such brands as Arctic Zero ice cream, Amy’s Bowls, Bell & Evans organic chicken breast tenders and Applegate organic turkey burgers, in addition to dozens of gluten-free foods and even Paleo diet-friendly bread.
The stores mostly buy directly from local farmers and producers, noted Brett’s business partner, Dennis McGonigle.
“Kimberton has always focused on local agriculture by giving local growers a platform. When you walk around the store you see a lot of labels that are within 100 miles of the location,” he said.
When Brett and his wife, Pat, opened a small store at Seven Stars Farm in Kimberton in 1986, they probably had no idea that their business would ultimately grow to six locations. Brett said that even a decade ago he could not have envisioned a store like Collegeville in Kimberton Whole Foods’ future.
“I think these are going to be the stores of the future,” he said. “We’re dedicated to organic and we’re going to stick to our original mission, which was organic food. As people become more conscious and interested in what they eat we perceive that organic will be more … I won’t say the norm, but it’s headed in that direction.”
Kimberton Whole Foods is located at 222 E. Main St., Collegeville.