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Whole Foods: love me, love my camera

Yesterday I stopped by the new Whole Foods and got a slap on the knuckles for taking this photo.

chocolate fountain at Whole Foods

That's a fountain of melted chocolate used to dip strawberries at the confection counter. The berry-dipper told me, in bored terms like it's happened a hundred times already, that photos are prohibited unless you get a photo permit from the Customer Service booth.

I was too miffed to inquire how hard it is to get a permit or what additional restrictions are associated with one. I may go back and do that another day. I did leave a comment card to the effect that if my eyeballs are permitted in the store, my camera should be as well. I hope other photobloggers will do the same, or better yet, just take the damn photos anyway.

Photo-crankery aside, I can't say I had a good time in my short visit. The gridlock in the store was worse than Central Market the day before Thanksgiving and after sharing my thoughts with management I let myself be squirted out the door like a watermelon seed. I've never been a big Whole Foods fan. My true love is Wheatsville and I have a sinful thing going on the side with Central Market; next to them Whole Foods seems like the worst of both worlds. But I'm willing to believe that the new store might give CM a run for its money, if only I could fight my way back to the various departments to find out. Maybe I should try it on a Tuesday morning.

Meanwhile I did get a couple of shots of some nice if self-serving exterior details.

austin 2005.03.27 link


I took that same picture the week of SXSW -

Besides the outdoor upstairs patio to eat and hang out on, there's really not much reason for me to head to Whole Foods often.

Michael S. [info cxe schliefkevision punkto com] • 2005.03.27
I took several as well; I didn't get any grief from the staff, but then again, it was super busy that day and I'm sure they had other things to worry about.

mike [mike cxe scmcis punkto com] • 2005.03.28
There was some talk of this on Lawrence Lessig's blog a while back. I also think photo restrictions like that are mostly ridiculous. Unfortunately, it's private property and they can pretty much make up any arbitrary rules they want. They can, for example, eject anyone from the store who refuses to speak in rhyming couplets.

Cinque [cinque cxe influxhouse punkto com] • 2005.03.28
You have to go at night...late. I was there last night @ 8pm and it was busy, which is amazing in it's own right for Easter Sunday, but you could navigate around with no issues. I am a big fan but do find it strange they are so freaked by cameras....get over it Whole Foods....!

Cory Hicks [cory punkto hicks cxe gmail punkto com] • 2005.03.28
i think the only reason i got away with it was to put the kid in the picture and pretend it was all about him.

what a weird atmosphere in there. i've been twice. i kept thinking, do people really come here to do grocery shopping? this can't be happening.

oh, we're really going to miss walking down to the store from our apt. just to get the two-bite brownies. it used to be so easy.

mel [wheresmy_40 cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2005.03.28
One day at Central Market I noticed a man taking pictures of various items in the produce section. A CM employee approached this man and told him that he needs to get permission from a manager in order to take any pictures inside the store. So, the Whole Foods policy re photos is not a surprise to me.

Anyway, here is my WF - CM scorecard:

Relaxing ambience: +CM
Navigable: +CM
Kid friendly: +CM (outdoor play-area is better at CM)
Takeout food: +WF (CM takeout all tastes the same after awhile)
Wine: +WF (WF seems to have good deals more frequently than CM)
Bakery: +WF (CM needs to do something about their rock hard baguettes)
Price: +CM (Any specific item sold at basic HEB stores is priced the same at CM; I have shopped at CM much more than WF so I need more data here)

jmanh [jmanh cxe swbell punkto net] • 2005.03.30
Man, after 2 months in Boulder, I'm pining for Central Market and its wicked pleasures. Here, we have what is rumored to be one of the highest volume Whole Foods in the country, in an under-spaced parking lot, with doors that make no sense, and granola employees even snippier than their bod-modded counterparts in Austin. The alternative? Wild Oats, which has that vaguely 1970's tempeh-loaf-vegetarian aura hanging about. Feh.

Ellen [helliemae cxe gmail punkto com] • 2005.03.30
Yes, I know that Whole Foods isn't alone in this policy. I had heard about the Starbucks flap but apparently Starbucks backed down after public protest, although whether they actually reversed themselves or the prohibition was a local rather than corporate one is unclear.

The most ironic form of this nonsense is the ban on cameras is at Fry's, which sells cameras intended to be taken everywhere, including cameraphones! Are we to check our phones at the door, like guns in a saloon?

Ellen, I feel for you. Jmanh, how's the produce at WF? My past impression was that WF charged organic prices for non-organic produce of a quality no better than Randall's. CM has the best produce I've seen anywhere, and the non-specialty produce items are generally at a regular supermarket price (even if they try to upsell you into the luxury stuff raised on moon rocks and panda dung).

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2005.03.31
Prentiss -- so far I've only purchased a few produce items at WF: a red bell pepper, a head of lettuce, 2 bunches of asparagus, and some mixed greens that come in a container. The red bell pepper and asparagus were excellent, the mixed greens were fine (but $2.00 more than the same item at Costco), but the head of lettuce was just so so.

I did like the WF price for the asparagus -- $1.99/lb. -- which is quite less than what CM typically charges. However, maybe we're now in asparagus season; I really don't know. It seems like someone needs to go back and forth between the two stores within the same week to make reliable comparisons.

My major WF purchase thus far has been 2 large yellow-fin tuna steaks. The price for these was $28 (ouch!). But, I must confess that they were outstanding.

Ellen -- I think I've noticed a bit of an attitude among a subset of the WF employees with whom I've interacted. The generally plump, middle-aged CM "foodies" have always been pleasant in my experience. Maybe, since I've been steadily transitioning to a plump, middle-aged status myself, I feel at home with these people. Several of the WF employees seem too thin to be seriously thought of as people who like food.

jmanh [jmanh cxe swbell punkto net] • 2005.03.31
Since no one's mentioned this, I'll say no-camera rules are pretty standard in supermarkets. The reasoning is that stores are worried that competitors will bring in cameras to note prices and then stage price wars on certain items. I can certainly imagine a store like Fry's, which is pretty competitive on price, would worry about this. There's probably a facet of fear about thieves using cameras to case out a store as well.

McChris [chris cxe infobong punkto com] • 2005.04.01
Chris, you're right, of course, but it's still a ridiculous policy, all the more so at a place like Fry's which sells cameras or at a place like Whole Foods which lives on customer buzz.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2005.04.01
Try taking a picture in a mall, any mall. You'll only make that mistake once. I got hassled for forty-five minutes by security one time just for videotaping someone talking outside Highland Mall here in Austin. Talking. In the parking lot. Not even pointing the camera at the mall itself. Yes, most commercial establishments get very tense about these things.

Stan [stan cxe strangesuns punkto com] • 2005.04.01
I think the right answer is for their customers -- their real customers, not first-amendment activists, although we're customers too -- to use their cameraphones etc. in sufficient numbers that the people behind these policies give up.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2005.04.01
Love the idea of a Prentiss-led cameraphone revolution. Gives "flash mob" a whole new ring.

Ellen [helliemae cxe gmail punkto com] • 2005.04.04
Stores are deeply paranoid about having their displays and arrangements ripped off -- there are highly paid people behind the scenes who spend a lot of time trying to come up with optimum ambient yoghurt placement. I spent a couple of weeks temping at a supermarket HQ about 15 years ago and you wouldn't believe how much pseudo-science is involved in where to position certain products/sections. The true industry spy would have a concealed camera of course....

Nigel • 2005.04.07
The same thing happened to me at Central Market. While I understand that they might want to protect their displays from competitors, this isn't the way to go about it. Your photo, and mine, were free publicity. We wanted to show the blogosphere just how cool Austin's grocery-shopping experience is.

Can't agree with jmanh's comment about the bakeries...everything I've tried at WFM's bakery is a disappointment. And they have no concept of the flaky pie crust.

M Sinclair Stevens [msinclairstevens cxe yahoo punkto com] • 2005.07.20
the photo thing is about the safety of the employees. sadly in this day everyone is worried about stalkers or harrassment or creeps of some kind. it's not as much about compition, usually if you ask at the customer service counter you can get permission. i got a tag to wear at the austin wf.

wonder girl [dalanya cxe mhtc punkto net] • 2005.07.26
I had a similar experience at WF in Chicago, the manager told me that it is corporate policy to forbid photography, for 'anti-competitive reasons', or some twaddle. What confuses me is why would a corporate spy use obvious cameras instead of tiny hidden cameras, or even a hidden video camera in a backpack? Customers who happen to see something worth photographing and whip out their handy digital cameras are not the enemy.

Seth Anderson [swanksalot cxe gmail punkto com] • 2005.11.12
Hi! i found your site while looking for some downtown parking garages (if you have any scoop, i'd appreciate it)
these are facinating comments.
i've worked for wfm since 1998 and i have to tell you that my training around photos has been to respect the privacy others.
Whole Foods knows it's impossible to stop competitors from copying our fabulous decorations! (some that i've built myself, thank you, thank you)
For more than a year, I staffed the Customer Service Counter.
Time and time again, customers who felt they were accidentally in someone's photo came to the booth to ask that we not allow cameras.
Some considered themselves harmless Austin Outlaws.
But, some customers are sincerely depressed about their appearance.
hope i was helpful, thanks! kori

kori [kori punkto stephens cxe wholefoods punkto com] • 2006.11.08
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