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The Loiterrati

In New York, Whole Foods “has emerged as the latest makeshift civic plaza,” reports Mike Vilensky in The Wall Street Journal (12/6/12). It’s a role that Starbucks has played, to some extent, particularly given its open-door policy on non-customer bathroom use. Whole Foods, however, seems to be taking things to a whole new level, with its “spacious seating areas” and “no formal policy regarding its use … For the cost of a coffee or nothing at all, city dwellers can people-watch, search for love or charge a smartphone at a supermarket known for its healthy food.”

Whole Foods spokesperson Michael Sinatra says that if people “can come into our store and enjoy the experience, that’s something we’re very proud of and cater to.” Whole Foods keeps “demographics and local interests in mind” as it develops new locations: “When the Upper West Side store opened in the home of a former jazz club, it kicked off with a free jazz series,” for example. Ronen Verbit, an artist, compares “Whole Foods to a nightclub.” He says he’s “joked to friends: ‘Did you know that in addition to being a place where attractive people meet each other, Whole Foods sells food?”

It’s not all beautiful people, though. Like any public space, Whole Foods attracts a certain disreputable element: “There have been 135 arrests in or near the Columbus Circle location in the first nine months of 2012 … The Upper West Side supermarket has recorded more than 50 arrests in that span. While nearly all came as a result of shoplifting, both stores also saw arrests for selling drugs outside.” That said, Paul Johnson Calderon, a bow-tie designer, affectionately refers to the Whole Foods community as “The Loiterrati. ” As he puts it: “It’s a very New York thing. People seem to feel comfortable just hanging out there.”