By Andrea K. Hammer
Without a conveniently located supermarket in Center City Philadelphia, museum district residents have eagerly anticipated the opening of a new 62,000-square-foot Whole Foods at Rodin Square. Several members of our group are longtime fans of this store with a strong health focus, so we began our wheelchair venture across the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with excitement. After remaining alert while navigating the complex traffic pattern on foot and bumping the wheelchair along broken pavements, we finally approached the angled block-wide site spanning 21st and 22nd Streets on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Disappointing Exterior Design
For months, we have watched construction of the new Whole Foods at Rodin Square from windows at a distance. The blue-tinged apartments above the supermarket made the site stand out–in an incongruous way–on the horizon. Instead of appearing integrated in the neighborhood, the color and boxy design seemed disjointed.
Up close, the building seemed even more nondescript–and a let-down. Apart from some flowers displayed outside the market near an outdoor eating area, little beyond the massive size of the site captured out attention or invited us inside. Then, as we entered the narrow first-floor café, the real challenges began.
Confusing Layout and Difficult Traffic Patterns
Arriving during the opening weekend, we landed in the middle of a swarming and dizzying crowd. Others seemed oblivious to the wheelchair, and we needed to search for a way to reach the inconveniently placed second-floor market. Once upstairs, the angled and congested aisles left us struggling to maneuver. Fortunately, we did manage to find the bakery and pick up some freshly baked breads and muffins, consistently delicious favorites at Whole Foods.
Meat Display and Sandwich Price Shock
When we turned the next corner, even the non-vegetarians in our group found the large glass-enclosed meat display truly horrifying. One of us shrieked after seeing a pig in the floor-to-ceiling case. Another still can’t forget the nauseating sight of dangling slabs of beef–reminiscent of a vegetarian-inducing high school exchange trip that included a visit to a meet-packing plant in Texas.
If that excursion for teenagers was mystifying, the decision to include this “feature” at the new Whole Foods in Philadelphia is equally questionable. Short of inciting an animal rights’ protest on the store’s sidewalk, we are completely stumped. Why would a store with a significant number of vegan products for customers focused on health take this highly offensive approach?
Still reeling from the assault on our senses, we were equally shocked after learning that a whole sandwich was $16 a pop. We know that prices at Whole Foods are never cheap, but even Center City residents may reject paying these exorbitant prices.
Call for Wheelchair-Friendly Design and Your Reactions
Our other major frustration in this store–and elsewhere–is the lack of thought about wheelchair-bound visitors. The salad bar and item labels are impossible to reach or see from this vantage point. Check-out lines that loop in convoluted mazes are particularly challenging for the disabled.
As baby-boomers–prime Whole Foods customers–live longer, many of us may personally experience these frustrations in the near future. What are your thoughts about issues facing the disabled and reactions to the super-sized Whole Foods at Rodin Square in Philadelphia? Post your comments on Artsphoria Magazine now!