Mulling a rack of beefsteak tomatoes at Whole Foods Bowery, Vanessa Rodriguez, a slender 31-year-old woman with light brown hair hanging to her waist, removed her ear-buds as a young man sidled up to her to inquire if the produce was organic. When he followed up with a request for her phone number, she told him politely that the tomatoes were for dinner with her boyfriend.
It wasn't the first time she had fended off an approach while grocery shopping at the Whole Foods on Bowery and Houston Street, she said.
Over samples of aged Gouda and amid aisles of extra-virgin olive oil, New Yorkers shopping at Whole Foods Bowery are turning the grocery into a thriving pick-up scene. The gelato bar, the upstairs café, the chilled, private cheese room, and long checkout lines are where flirting is most rampant in the 71,000-square-foot store that opened last March, Whole Foods employees said.
"I noticed this man come up to me when I was standing in line," a tall, blonde, 22-year-old student who lives in NoLIta, Marya Spence, said. "He opened the door for me as I was leaving and asked me, ‘Is this the exit for the beautiful girls?' He was maybe 40, so it just wasn't a match."
While many pick-up lines fall flat, single shoppers said the floodlit aisles provide a "safer" space to start up conversations with strangers than most bars in the neighborhood. Peeking into each other's grocery carts, they said, could also be more revealing of a person's lifestyle choices than an online profile on a social networking or dating Web site.
"I'm really health conscious," a 28-year-old singer in the band edible red, Collette McLafferty, said. "I want to date health conscious people, and that could be why Whole Foods seems like a good place to meet people."
After chatting with an attractive man at Whole Foods two nights ago but forgetting his name, Ms. McLafferty, who lives on the Lower East Side, posted a message on Craigslist looking to reconnect with him.
"He had dark, curly brown hair, blue eyes, he was well built, probably about 5-feet-10," she said. She is waiting for a response to her posting, she said. Ms. McLafferty, who said she has often been approached by shoppers who comment on the tattoo of a dragon around her upper arm, added that flirting was easy at Whole Foods because of low expectations. "When you go out with the intention of meeting someone, you never meet anyone," she said.
Singles in New York City have a harder time meeting people than in other cities, a doctor and relationship counselor, James Walkup, told The New York Sun. "The stress level here is higher, and people don't take their time to slow down enough to really make connections," Dr. Walkup said.
New Yorkers with little leisure time are using their time running errands to meet each other, he added.
"I make eyes at people," a 27-year-old actor who lives near South Street Seaport, Ari Rossen, said. "It's a hip neighborhood, everyone who shops here is young, and there are plenty of things around to talk about."
Whole Foods Bowery is actively boosting its reputation as a place for singles to meet, a spokeswoman for the store, Rebecca Ulanoff, said. In August, the store is hosting "Check Out," a singles night co-sponsored by the Web site Gothamist.com. The store is also hoping to attract a fashion-forward, eco-friendly crowd tomorrow morning when it sells Anya Hindmarch shopping totes printed with the message: "I'm Not a Plastic Bag."
"I think it's all a hoot," Ms. Ulanoff said of the store's reputation as pick-up scene. "I've been told that I was pretty when I was walking through the store."
Still, the café's no-alcohol policy puts a damper on how far any flirtations could go, a 23-year-old actor who lives in the East Village, Jacob Pinion, said.
Some shoppers say they avoid the pick-up scene. "I definitely notice it, but I've never done it," Nick Dee, 25, who lives in Williamsburg, said. "I've heard, ‘So you like tomatoes, too?' at the salad bar. I think it's actually pretty lame."