- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Prince George’s County is basking in the “Whole Foods effect” now that the upscale organic grocer has opened its doors at the Riverdale Park Station development, county officials say.

“It’s a big deal,” said Brad Frome, one of the county’s economic development leaders. “The fact that they’re investing here and opening a store here is an affirmation of the direction the county’s heading in.”

After six years fraught with delays, the county’s first Whole Foods opened April 12, anchoring a $250 million town center between U.S. Route 1 (Baltimore Avneue) and the CSX train tracks.

A Starbucks opened earlier this month at Riverdale Park Station, and five restaurants — District Taco, Habit Burger, Mod Pizza, Jersey Mike’s Subs and Burtons Grill & Bar — are set to open at the site this spring.

A Gold’s Gym, an Old Line Bank branch and a Comcast cable TV office also have signed leases at the complex, along with a nail spa and a physical therapy facility.

Just north of Maryland Route 410 (East-West Highway), 16 of the total 120 townhouses planned for the site are under construction, priced in the $400,000s.

Mr. Frome said the Riverdale shopping center serves as a beacon of economic growth in the county, which historically has lagged behind the rest of the region in terms of attracting high-end retailers.

“It’s an anecdote to the bigger progress of the county over the last six years,” said Scott Peterson, spokesman for County Executive Rushern Baker.

Grand openings at the Riverdale Park Station follow the December premiere of the $1.4 billion MGM National Harbor casino resort, and a surge of redevelopment in Laurel.

The Route 1 corridor, where Whole Foods is located, is experiencing a construction boom that extends all the way to the District line, with new residential and commercial projects in the pipeline for Hyattsville, according to Mr. Peterson.

But landing a deal with the Austin, Texas-based grocery store officially put Prince George’s County in the “up and coming” category, he said.

“Getting the Whole Foods wasn’t as easy as you’d think,” Mr. Mr. Peterson said, referring to pushback from residents against increasing traffic in the area. “There were people who didn’t want it. And yet, there is a Whole Foods effect, and we understood what it means for not only that community, but the entire county.”

On Tuesday, nearly a week after its ribbon-cutting ceremony, Whole Foods bustled with shoppers, most of them flocked around the store’s prepared food section.

“The community has really embraced the store,” said Michael Fowler, the store’s manager. “The most popular area right now is the culinary area, with our wood-fired pizza and organic salad bar.”

Every evening, the store is packed with students from the nearby University of Maryland-College Park campus, he said.

“It’s become more of a destination, not just a place to grab groceries, and that’s really exciting for us,” Mr. Fowler said.

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