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Grassroots gimmick hopes to lure green grocer

            By giving a modern twist to an old idea, a Rocky River resident is hoping to bring a healthy food choice to the city.

            “I was talking to my neighbors a couple of years ago, and we were lamenting the situation of Rockport. It’s an abandoned, vacant strip mall that is counterproductive to home values,” recalled Paul Fresty recently. He was referring to the mostly empty and partially demolished shopping center on Center Ridge Road.  He said the discussion eventually led to the idea of a Whole Foods grocery store possibly taking the space formerly occupied by Giant Eagle.

            After speaking with city officials, Fresty, admittedly “big into social networking,” launched “Bring Whole Foods to Rocky River” on Facebook. He said that the last time he checked the page there were over 3,000 fans, more than for the page of the closest Whole Foods store on Cleveland’s East Side.

            “I thought, what better way to do this than an old-fashioned grassroots campaign,” said Fresty, adding that he had spoken to Whole Foods’ regional real estate representative Steve Passov, who works on the store’s behalf in the area, and posted his e-mail address on the site. (Passov’s company is also handling the sale of the former Rocky River Pour House on Center Ridge, just down from Rockport).

            “He was a little annoyed, but he reached out to me. He said they were possibly planning (on constructing a Whole Foods) but was not sure where they’d put it. Passov would not speak to West Life about Whole Foods. In communication dated July of 2009 provided by Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Liz Manning, Passov told her that it was too early to comment. “Whole Foods across the country gets inundated with requests for new stores. They don’t make their decisions based on fan base. It’s all about the market research,” he stated.

            Fresty said that the Rockport site meets all of the criteria for Whole Foods’ site consideration listed on the store’s website. These include a population of 200,000 or more within a 20-minute drive, 25,000 to 50,000 square feet, abundant parking, visibility and easy access. He added that he has “not heard a peep” from Whole Foods itself.

            Fresty said he encourages people to enter the Rocky River ZIP code on the site posted by the Whole Foods corporate website and to check out the Facebook page.

 

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