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Whole Foods rolls into town

• The Texas-based natural foods chain will open March 20 in the Brewery Blocks

Portland foodies have another event to look forward to: The city's first Whole Foods Market is set to open March 20 in the new West Burnside Street development, the Brewery Blocks.

Whole Foods Market Inc., which bills itself as the 'world's largest natural and organic supermarket,' hopes to find many of the 175 employees who will work at the new Portland store at a job fair from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Feb. 6 and 7, at the Residence Inn Portland Downtown RiverPlace.

The Austin, Texas-based natural foods chain will be the first retailer to open in the Brewery Blocks development and only the second Whole Foods store in the Northwest. Seattle's 50,000-square-foot store opened in November 1999.

The Portland store will be on the block bounded by Burnside and Couch streets between 12th and 13th avenues.

Whole Foods has more than 125 stores in 23 states and the District of Columbia. The stores average $18 million each in annual sales.

Usually when the company opens a new store, about 20 percent of its staff are people who already work for Whole Foods, says Steve Papegaay, the store team leader and a 13-year Whole Foods veteran. But the Portland store, he says, 'is getting a lot of attention across the country. Portland is a very desirable place to live,' and the number of transfers could be higher.

Because of Oregon's high unemployment rate of 7.5 percent Ñ the highest in the nation Ñ he also expects the fair to attract a wide variety of applicants.

'Whole Foods as a company tends to hire more full-time than part-time people,' Papegaay says. 'Probably 80 percent of the positions will be full time, so it's definitely going to be a career opportunity for a lot of folks.'

Among the hires will be chefs to staff the in-store kitchen.

Other features of the supermarket include a 30,000-square-foot main floor and a 4,000-square-foot mezzanine with a housewares department and a cooking school, and a 24-foot-long seafood counter that Papegaay says will be the biggest in town.

There will be an in-store bakery, a delicatessen offering an assortment of take-away foods and extensive wine and cheese departments.

A number of Oregon companies already sell to Whole Foods, including Kettle Chips, Tazo Tea and Pacific Soy Milk, as well as Oregon Country Beef, which offers additive- and hormone-free beef grown by a cooperative of Oregon ranchers.

'There are some great local companies that we've been doing business with for a long time now,' Papegaay says. 'Now we're in their back yard, and we're excited about that.'

The Portland grocery market has expanded to include a number of high-end food stores Ñ Zupan's Market, New Seasons Market, Trader Joe's, City Market and Nature's NorthwestÑ so why should people get excited about Whole Foods?

'We have a lot of great things to offer,' Papegaay says, 'including exceptional customer service and very defined quality standards.'

Contact Kristina Brenneman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..