The recent, grand opening of Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in Deerfield filled Cadwell's Corners parking lot to overflowing for the first time in nearly 20 years, said one village cop, as motorists waited patiently for spaces to open.
Some residents of Deer Run and Briarwood Vista, northeast of the mall at Lake Cook and Waukegan roads, sued the village for allowing the Phoenix-based chain to open in the former anchor store, a long-empty Stein Mart clothing outlet.
The suit contends that noise from early morning truck deliveries, rotting perishables in the alley behind the store, and other quality-of-life concerns make the special use permit for the new tenant a bad decision for the village.
In an interview, Deerfield Mayor Harriet Rosenthal said, "We bent over backwards to accommodate (neighbors') concerns and fears and we've done that. But the judge keeps giving them their day, and the suit is just dragging on. I feel it's more of a harassment suit," she said.
"As I explained to the few residents who brought the suit, they're paying both sides of it, as the defendants (paying with their tax dollars) and as the plaintiffs paying lawyers' fees."
Rosenthal said the mall's new tenant "will be a viable store without hurting Whole Foods (a mile to the north at Waukegan and Deerfield roads). I think Whole Foods has its loyal following, and Fresh Thyme may cut into its business a bit, but both will prosper. Fresh Thyme has drawn new users to the center and will continue to do so."
"The residents will find that this grocery store only enhances their property; it's better than an empty mall," added Rosenthal.
Store officials estimated 3,500 customers shopped on opening day, at which happy bedlam reigned. With store aisles choked at times like bumper cars played with shopping carts, customers kept an army of employees and volunteers busy restocking displays, directing traffic and ringing up sales.
Anthony and Julia Iacopetti, owners of Studio A hair salon, have been betting on Fresh Thyme all along. The couple acquired a lease last October for the storefront about 100 feet to the north of the grocer's new entrance.
Anthony Iacopetti, in an interview, said "I kept up with the news, and I have a lot of customers in Deerfield, so I heard two very different viewpoints. I read about the neighbors' concerns about noise and traffic, but I have customers who also live right behind (Fresh Thyme) and were pleased that a grocery store was coming in."
"I grew up in Chicago, across the alley from a Dominick's and I'm very familiar with semis at five in the morning making deliveries with the beeping noises when the trucks back up," said Iacopetti. "I understand the concerns of the neighbors, but as long as (neighbors and the village) come to a meeting of the minds, this new store is only adding value to the community."
Fresh Thyme CEO Chris Sherrell said, "We've addressed neighbors' concerns on our end and want to make sure we are a positive part of the community."
In public hearings, some residents voiced concerns that a second organic produce store in Deerfield will hurt Whole Foods store.
Sherrell said neighboring fresh produce stores can coexist and prosper and if any business is lost, it's more likely being taken from the market share of "dying conventional grocery stores".
"Whole Foods deals with a little bit different, higher-income customer and we are really looking to offer organic food at great prices to the masses. There are several instances where we opened up within a mile of (Whole Foods) or they opened within a mile of us, and both stores ended up doing very well.
"Natural organic markets still only have 15 percent of national grocery sales, so there's plenty of room to grow."
Deerfield is Fresh Thyme's second store in Illinois. A Mt. Prospect store opened in January, and the company plans to open about 50 more in the Midwest over the next six years, according to its website.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun