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Whole Lotta Whole Foods

You can age your meat at Whole Foods. Trust me, my dad's already made that joke.

Thirty minutes from now, the doors will open to the new Whole Foods in Preston Forest Shopping Center. There will be the attendant ceremony, with a mayoral proclamation read before the sliding of the doors; this is, after all, Where The Mayor Shops. And then the floodgates will open, with dozens or hundreds or perhaps even more of the curious and hungry forcing their way into the store to check out a behemoth that's been under construction for the better part of the year. They've been promised much--biggest grocery store in town, best in the state, only one in the country with an actual spa under the same roof. But isn't it just a grocery store?

Yes, it is. And a dozen other things crammed into 52,000 square feet. Such as: a gourmet cheese shop where they will age your cheese for you in specially designed cases. A candy store with a taffy-pulling machine, a cotton-candy machine and a chocolate fountain in which you can get anything you want dipped and drowned (within reason). A bona fide New York deli. A vinegar- and oil-tasting station like the one at Williams-Sonoma. A "seafood theater" where you can watch sushi being made all day. A butcher shop with a dry-aging room on full display. A clothing store where shirts are fashioned from bamboo. A full-blown spa. A coffee shop and pastry store that opens an hour before the actual grocery (at 7 a.m., for those tired of their Starbucks ritual). A wi-fi cafe. And on and on--everything you find at other Whole Foods and their competitors, only bigger, brighter, better.

It is, to the best of our knowlege, the only grocery store with its own concierge desk. Need someone else to shop for you? That is what they will do, for $20 an hour--though, the Whole Foods PR person says, it usually takes only half that time. They will also arrange for your groceries to be delivered, should you need to run other errands or duck into the Refresh spa for a stone massage, a hydrating body scrub or a consultation with a nutritionist.

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Workers were putting the finishing touches on Whole Foods' Refresh spa yesterday.

Mock it all you want; whine that it's not as funky-fresh (well, funky, no doubt) as the Greenville Avenue location. But it's now ground zero for the local food fetishist; wonder when I will see the inside of Central Market again. All it lacks is beer and wine--and Karen Lukin, WF's local spokesperson, swears her store isn't behind the folks outside North Dallas grocery stores trying to collect signatures for the petition drive that would get a wet-dry referendum on the ballot next year. "We don't even have any room here," she says. "Although if the law should change, I am sure we could find a way to make room."

Lukin refuses to acknowledge that this Whole Foods--and the one planned on Park Lane near NorthPark Center--are a response to Central Market's success here. "We follow our own pattern," she says diplomatically. Then she shows me that cheese-aging station one more time. See you in, what, half an hour. --Robert Wilonsky

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