By Daniel Corriera

Whole Foods Market is set to open a location in Santa Cruz, though some worry that the store could challenge several other organic supermarkets for business in the health-conscious town.

Sarah Miles, marketing director for New Leaf Community Markets, a local chain of organic food stores, hopes that consumers will continue to support locally owned organic markets.

“A lot of people in Santa Cruz prefer to spend their dollars at locally owned companies because they prefer that their dollars stay in the community,” Miles said. “For natural foods shoppers, markets like New Leaf, Staff of Life, Food Bin, and Aptos Naturals will continue to be the preferred choice.”

With 194 locations across North America and the United Kingdom, Whole Foods is one of the world’s biggest organic food chains. No date has been set for the opening of the 25,000 square-foot building at 911 Soquel Avenue, formerly the site of Albertsons supermarket.

Director of City Planning Greg Larson believes that the added competition shouldn’t be a problem for local businesses because Whole Foods is replacing a former supermarket.

“In legal parlance, it’s called a by-right use to use the space for the same sort of business,” Larson said. “Although it’s added supermarket competition, it’s a competition that previously existed with Albertsons, Staff of Life, Shopper’s Corner, and even Trader Joes and New Leaf downtown. In fact, competition often provides higher quality and lower price for consumers.”

Capitola Community Development Director Juliana Rebagliati asserted that smaller, locally-owned businesses actually tend to do well with the influx of chain stores.

“It’s like what happened to downtown Santa Cruz with Borders and the locally-owned bookstores like Bookshop Santa Cruz and the Literary Guillotine. It turned out that everybody did OK,” Rebagliati said. “Statistically, local businesses end up doing alright because people will pay more for having good service that bigger places can’t have.”

However, consumers will ultimately decide the fates of local business.

Maria Robben, a UC Santa Cruz student, usually shops at Trader Joe’s, but often goes to Staff of Life for certain items. She acknowledged the possibility that a mega-chain could draw some of her business despite her appreciation for local grocery stores.

“Staff of Life is great,” Robben said. “I go there whenever I need stuff to make sushi. I guess I might go to Whole Foods if they had the same stuff for cheaper.”

To some Santa Cruz residents, Whole Foods is simply a lesser evil in a world where the presence of national chain stores is inevitable.

“I don’t really care where I shop,” said Santa Cruz resident K.C. Thole. “But I do like to eat healthy. Although Whole Foods isn’t a locally-owned business, it’s a step up from an Albertsons.”