You're kicking yourself for not investing in Whole Foods five years ago -- you could be retiring to your villa in Provence right about now. Here's a tip: A little independent operation called Village Marketplace is the dark horse that's going to give Whole Foods a run for its money. Owner Joseph Macchione is making his mark in the grocery biz in South Florida with a midsized market -- smaller than Publix, bigger than the corner deli -- that sells gourmet chocolates, organic half and half ($3.29), Guatemalan coffee ($8.99 a pound), fresh produce, prepared foods, specialty cheeses ($3.77 for a wedge of ricotta salata), imported wines, tuna (a can of Ortiz is $4.99), and olive oils. But that ain't all. Bathroom tissue, frozen pizza, muffin mix, tomato sauce, and strawberry jelly are for sale too. It's one stop for your ravishing bouquet of lilies, your Gardenburger, and your Bounty paper towels. Macchione cut his teeth on jobs with Wild Oats and Fresh Fields; he's clearly taken the best ideas of both. The original Marketplace in Plantation closed this year, but only to retool; Macchione says they'll reopen in Lauderdale, possibly in another location, at a more manageable size. They're steadily adding organics as they see what sells and what rots on the shelves; they're already selling free-range chickens from Ashley Farms. A small café turns out wholesome lunches. The cheese and charcuterie sections offer enough variety for a year's worth of antipasti; a yummy, whole-grain bread ($3.49 for a loaf) comes from their bakery; and bottles of wine and sake boast Wine Spectator ratings. Macchione says he's committed to keeping prices fair. Sounds like a great marketing concept.
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