The Gathering Place

A cool place to be. To meet. To hang out. And it just happens to be a grocery store. A place where the standards are set equally as high for food as design. Enter Whole Foods Market’s new Chicagoland flagship—a modern, Instagram-worthy destination for neighbors to shop, eat, gather and call their own.

By Jenny S. Rebholz

With the purchase of Whole Foods Market last August, Amazon became more than just an e-commerce retailer. And the brand new Whole Foods Market Lakeview in Chicago aims to be much more than just a grocery store—it is a culinary destination and local gathering place. Whether you are a foodie or just a consumer committed to purchasing high-quality food, this new market is more than a place to stock up on groceries; it’s a spot to order a cup of coffee, grab a beer or sip a great glass of wine. There even is an arcade for gamers. With 25 other stores in the Chicagoland area, the new 75,600-sq.-ft. Lakeview location paves the way for the future of Whole Foods with design standards that were set as high as the food standards.

“Lakeview is Chicago’s new flagship store. It is easy to get to from some of the fastest-growing neighborhoods, like Logan Square,” says Stacey Landino, senior project manager of décor and design for Whole Foods’ Midwest region. “While the location across the street was one of the original stores from the 1990s, a relocation was the right move as we embarked on the new flagship design.”

The new store is a beacon on six corners of a unique intersection of three major streets—Belmont, Ashland and Lincoln. A dramatic glass atrium and enlarged lettering creates a billboard effect with visibility of the activity inside. The architecture and graphics announce its presence within the community, creating a landmark that welcomes families to come explore this food destination.

“Whole Foods has always been the future of food. You know it is a place where you can purchase high-quality food,” Landino says. “We are always pushing the envelope for food, so we wanted to likewise push the envelope of design. We wanted to create an Instagram-worthy experience.”

Whole Foods collaborated with Portland, Ore.-based Blend Design Co., led by owner/designer Jack O’Connor, to bring in fun elements that express localization and enhance the community feel. “The project message was to create a modern destination for neighbors to shop, eat, gather and call their own, a place for tastemakers,” O’Connor says.

There are two main entry points to this two-story retail experience. Foot traffic off the street can enter into the glass-encased atrium with a clear view of Allegro Coffee Roasters, a first for Whole Foods Market in Chicago. Allegro roasts and delivers small batches of craft coffee to 12 Whole Foods Market Chicago stores, including a Chicago exclusive “High Fidelity Espresso.” Customers also can enter from the parking garage, where they are welcomed by the Allegro coffee bar. From the roastery’s concrete base stamped with “Lakeview CH. IL.” to the coffee bar’s photo mural that pays homage to local business Rose Records and the music roots of Lakeview, the spaces offer clean, simple design details with bold branded elements that set the tone for the design experience.

Positioning the Allegro amenity at the entry points is a unique visual that warmly greets customers and eases them into shopping mode. There is ample seating, a place to “just be” or gather—a decompressing zone. When customers are ready, the escalators and elevators are easily accessible and ready to guide people to the next stop on their shopping journey. As customers begin to orient themselves on the second level, they are welcomed by a juice bar, a partnership with Real Good Juice—another opportunity to have something delicious to sip while shopping. While the typical existing Whole Foods Markets offer a long rectangular floor plan and a food-court style prepped foods area, the new space plan returned to a more traditional square shop.

“The store space plan was streamlined, so the customer hits produce, seafood and meat on a square perimeter, an easy shopping experience,” Landino describes. “It is so simple that it adds to the success of the store—clean, bright and easy to navigate. Over the years, people have tried to do innovative things with the grocery layout, but customers respond best to quick, intuitive navigation for easy daily shopping.”

While a typical center store with standard Whole Foods endcaps was maintained in this location, a wider-than-normal perimeter loop wraps the store. It encourages customers to dive deeper into the different venues or allows them to move quickly past to get to their desired location. Soffit details, unique tile patterns, color combinations, innovative material selections and other strategies call attention to special areas that break up the square plan. These venues invite customers to explore, guiding them through the store, as well as creating memorable spaces and in-store shop experiences.

Industrial and area-familiar materials, such as reclaimed oak and steel, were combined to create clean lines and modern applications. Dramatic soffits, ceiling transitions and shops within shops invite visitors to explore. “Structures built from metal I-beams, wood trusses, glass and corrugated metal reflect the historic, industrial and urban feel of the Lakeview area,” O’Connor says. Metal channel or oversized marquee letters, painted murals, neon signs and pendant lights create a mood within each area. Whether a standalone shop or specialty department, there is a cohesiveness within the design in addition to a distinct sense of place.

“The Whole Foods Market brand encourages a lifestyle-centric shopping experience filled with unique décor elements, buildouts and offerings,” O’Connor says. “Instagram-worthy moments and in-store shops excite visitors and make the shop truly unique. Branded spaces within the store excite shoppers, encourage exploration and serve as local gathering spots.”

As with all Whole Foods locations, Lakeview was designed to reflect the community it serves. “We were able to have fun with Lakeview,” Landino says. “It is an old but artsy neighborhood that has a youthful vibe; the people are full of life and ready to try new things. They have an appreciation for melding modernism with traditional and embrace change.”

One of the community elements that the team drew from was the popularity of artistic expression through murals. Several murals in the store create distinct destinations. At the first-floor parking garage entry, a mural by local artist Jeff Zimmerman is a definite conversation starter.

“I wanted art that makes you think and question, something to talk about it,” Landino says. “The dandelion, buffalo and other regional references make it a conversation piece, and people definitely take pictures of it. Jeff is a well-respected muralist, and this piece represents what Chicago is now. We didn’t need another skyline. This is about what is happening on the street and in real life. It commands the first floor.”

A mural by local artist Laura Burger sets the tone and truly brands the Wine Box, another destination within the store. Aesthetically, Landino wanted it to be the “non-wine bar, wine bar.” This is not a typical Tuscan décor drenched in dark oak and deep reds; it is an unpredictable space with a palette of black, white, light wood tones and pink. “Yes, we put pink in the store,” Landino says. “Pink in the Wine Box and other locations helps us transform the backdrop of the grocery store. We wanted to expand consumer expectations and not look like a typical grocer.”

The fun, youthful color palette is continued throughout the store and punctuated with neon signs in very non-traditional ways. In the Cheese Shoppe, salmon, gray, yellow and white tiles are cut in triangles like confetti with a neon “For the love of cheese” sign.

For the seafood area, the design team wanted a “wow” department as the shoppers enter and something with an industrial open market appeal, O’Connor describes. “A huge pine ceiling angles up to invite customers in,” O’Connor adds. “Black brick, oversized tile, galvanized warehouse lights and metal marquee lettering (spelling ‘Fishmonger’) give the feel we were looking for.”

The Red Star Bar is a pub destination with a rotating tap of 32 local or hard-to-find beers and a large whiskey menu, as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner menu options. A faux timber ceiling and large wood beams create drama within the space while a focal point is the face of the bar and surrounding floor made of hand-painted cement tiles with white Chicago star accents. A small arcade adjacent to this area offers a piece of nostalgia for adults hanging out, but has really turned into a place for kids—entertainment for the whole family.

Whole Foods and Blend Design Co. wanted to create more than a grocery store, they wanted to provide a neighborhood hangout. “We weren’t simply planning a grocery store, we were creating a cool place to be,” Landino adds. “But it just happens to be a grocery store. Food is the unifying element, and we have provided multiple destinations to enjoy it.”

Whole Foods Lakeview is a place to dine, drink, meet with friends and watch a game, but don’t forget your shopping list, because you can do that, too.


project file

Whole Foods Market
Lakeview, Chicago

Whole Foods Market


Blend Design Co.

BRR Architecture

Novak Construction

Henderson (HEI)

Lozier, Opto International Inc., Chandler Inc.

Targent Lighting

bolefloor (in wine bar only)


Fireclay Tile

West Elm, Grand Rapids Chairs, Icon Modern, Chandler Inc., Hoffman booths

Chandler Inc.



Benjamin Moore


Jeff Zimmerman, Laura Berger

Information in the project file is provided by the retailer and/or design firm.

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