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Whole Foods to close Gresham store

Customers express concern about where they will go

At first glance, the bulletin board at the Gresham Wild Oats store evokes a promising April: 'Get Your Green On - Earth Day Events,' teases a community garden plot event on April 16.

But farther down, spring hope gives way to stark reality: '4/19 Gresham Whole Foods will be closed. Please visit one of our other stores!! Thank you Good Bye!!'

Whole Foods, which took over ownership, if not the signage, of the Wild Oats store at 2077 N.E. Burnside Road, in August 2007, announced it's closing the store effective Saturday, April 19. The 64 employees of the natural foods grocery were notified of the decision Thursday, March 27. They would be offered jobs at other stores or a severance package, said John Clougher, regional president of Whole Foods' Pacific Northwest region.

He attributed the closing to a restructuring plan that includes new Portland-area stores.

'After careful evaluation of our locations in the Portland area, we have decided to close the Gresham Wild Oats location,' he said. 'This allows us to focus on providing the very best shopping experiences at our other five locations in the vicinity.'

Those stores include the Tanasbourne Whole Foods Market at Northwest Cornell Road and Amberglen, which will open Wednesday, April 23.

Beginning as a Nature's Northwest store in 2000, the grocery became Wild Oats in 2004 before Wild Oats merged with Whole Foods last year.

When questioned on Tuesday, April 1, store employees expressed disappointment about the decision, but sounded hopeful about other Whole Foods opportunities.

'We thought we'd dodged a bullet,' said a clerk who weathered the Whole Foods takeover from Wild Oats last summer. He asked that his name not be used. 'I didn't think this would happen.'

He said he will probably accept a job at one of the Portland stores if he is offered one.

A checkout clerk was also hopeful for a job transfer, but was concerned about the actual number of openings. No employees were sure who would be offered jobs, the clerk added, as opposed to severance packages. The closing was likely precipitated by a low profit margin, the clerk speculated.

'What are you gonna do?'

Jo and Ivan Taylor, a couple that moved from Northeast Portland to Gresham to be near relatives, said they were disappointed, but not surprised to hear of the closing.

'I hate to see it go,' Jo Taylor said. 'Studies show people in Gresham won't support' organic-oriented grocers such as Whole Foods, Zupan's and Trader Joe's. 'I'd give anything for any one of those.'

Taylor prefers organic fruits and vegetables, 'and I want a good deli,' she said. 'This is what I don't like about Gresham: There is not a decent grocery store.'

Gresham resident Susanna Hood, who's shopped at the Gresham Wild Oats for nearly seven years, is concerned about where she'll get herbal medicine.

'It leaves a hole for me,' she said of the closing, adding she signed an unsuccessful petition to bring a Trader Joe's to Gresham. 'A person can only drive so far. I probably won't be going to the other locations.'

Praising the employees' knowledge of naturopathic medicine, she also speculated there were too many customers who, like her, shopped a couple times a month and bought primary groceries at mainstream supermarkets.

'I'd very rarely see someone with a full cart,' she said. 'I guess it's because of that.'