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Whole Foods Market opening Suffolk store

Ray Kane puts the finishing touches on the

Ray Kane puts the finishing touches on the Whole Foods logo above the fruit and vegetable section. Whole Foods is opening its third location on Long Island and first store in Suffolk County. (March 15, 2010) Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

Workers Monday readied displays of near-perfect produce under rustic signs fashioned from old barn wood. Pristine glass cases held little cards detailing the origins and distance traveled of the meat and fish that would soon be placed there.

Whole Foods Market has come to Suffolk County.

The Austin, Texas-based natural foods supermarket chain offered a preview last night of its new Lake Grove location, hosting a fundraising event for Long Island Cares Inc.-The Harry Chapin Food Bank. The store, now the largest of the grocer's three Long Island locations, is set to open Wednesday.

"It's our first foray out east, so we're really bringing our brand to an entirely new group of people," said Michael Sinatra, a Whole Foods spokesman. "There are some people who actually drive the distance between Lake Grove and Jericho. We certainly knew there were fans there."

Whole Foods' Manhasset and Jericho stores are surrounded by upper-income communities. The 48,000-square-foot Lake Grove location - in the works before the national and local recessions fully blossomed - is nestled in a major shopping hub anchored by Smith Haven Mall.

Despite the rough economy, Whole Foods added 33 stores in 2008 and 2009 and expects to open between 15 and 20 others this year. Its stock price almost tripled in 2009. Monday it closed at $36.37.

While organic and natural products tend to translate into higher prices, the company has been making an effort to highlight its sales items as well as its less expensive private-label products, which still adhere to its quality and environmental standards, Sinatra noted.

"We want to show them we do have value in our store," he said. "There are items in the store you can save on and help balance your shopping budget."

Besides bakery, meat counter and cheese displays, the store has seating for 180 and a perimeter lined with prepared food stations, such as a fresh-squeezed-juice bar, a coffee and gelato counter, hot food and salad bars and a vegan-no-oil salad bar.

In keeping with its environmentally friendly philosophy, the store uses energy-efficient refrigeration, and all its food waste will be composted. About 10 percent of the food will be from the New York, New Jersey, Connecticut area, in keeping with the chain's local-source policy.

Those with fuel-efficient vehicles get an extra perk: parking spots near the entrance.

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