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Buyout puts Gresham Wild Oats future in question

Connie Lawrence has plenty of reason to buy healthy, organic food.

Her husband is a cancer survivor, she said Friday outside the Wild Oats Markets outlet in Gresham, two days after Whole Foods announced it is buying the grocer.

'I'm just convinced that there is evidence of organic (food) being better,' said Lawrence, of Sandy. 'I think the food industry has pulled the wool over our eyes.'

Lawrence, who shops at Wild Oats for the wide variety of pesticide-free fruit and veggies, said she is excited about Whole Foods taking over the space.

'I've heard so much about them, the great customer service,' she said.

Inside, a grocery bagger said the store would look completely different by September, after Whole Foods remodels the space. Asked if it meant any more changes for him, he said, 'More money.'

But whether Whole Foods will keep operating in Gresham is unclear. The local outlet on Burnside Road opened in July 2004, when Wild Oats bought out Nature's.

'Wild Oats Markets has been rationalizing its store base over the last several years to shed underperforming stores,' a statement from Whole Foods says. 'But some additional store closures are expected, as well as the relocation of some stores that overlap with stores Whole Foods Market currently has in development.'

Whole Foods, based in Austin, Texas, is spending $565 million to buy Wild Oats. The company has nearly 200 outlets in the United States, Britain and Canada. A message left with the company about the future of the Gresham Wild Oats store was not returned.

Boulder-Colo.-based Wild Oats has 110 stores in the United States and Canada.

Sarah Jette of Gresham, pushing a full shopping cart toward her car, said she frequents the store nearly every day. It is her closest option for organic produce. The store is ideal when she is cooking for vegan friends or simply for her daughter, who she wants to protect from hormone-enriched meats, Jette said.

'A few doctors have mentioned that girls are developing earlier because of the hormones,' she said.

She saw no problems with the news that Whole Foods will soon make wholesale changes to the local store.

'If they have the same type of thing, I'm fine with it,' Jette said.