{Update} How I Got Kicked Out of Whole Foods. ~ Marissa Faye

Via elephant journal
on Oct 3, 2010
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Update to original, below: editor Waylon Lewis’ response to WFM:

Dear [WFM Team Member], thanks so much. As always you and XXXX and everyone have been really sweet. I just put this on my Facebook Page, which goes to 25,000 folks

also, [WFM Team Member] I tweeted my appreciation. I think Marissa would love to meet—she was a little humiliated and a bit out of sorts that week, anyways—without any of her clothes or anything. Not sure, though—I’ll check with her. In any case you all have really walked your talk on this and it’s all love. I’ll update [this] blog with my appreciation.

Yours, Waylon

Original article follows:

No Home, No Shoes, No Respect.

I’d long associated Whole Foods with…wholesome people.

I had been evacuated from my home for eight days by a fire that consumed hundreds of homes. The air was still thick with smoke.

It would still be another two days before I could return. My back was killing me—the couch I’d been sleeping on dipped awkwardly, my butt sinking into that space between the cushions…and I had to bend my knees to fit. My small hamper of clothing, mass amounts of fruit flies, and I currently lived in a room the size of a walk-in closet. That said, of course, I am completely grateful to my friends—they had my back. Ones that are there for you in desperate times and let me take over the largest room in their house.

Still, I missed home. My beautiful, spacious home that looks down upon mountains and mountains, that looks down on the city, and removes me from the madness of speedy people, constantly going.

And, I was hungry. Starving.  My money was still trapped up in the house and I had been living off of Half Fast Subs’ free meals for evacuees for a week at this point. God bless Half Fast’s generosity, but sub sandwiches were getting old for this healthy living girl.

I googled “food evacuees boulder” and was given a list of restaurants that were giving free meals to evacuees. Included was Whole Foods Market. I shop at the Whole Foods on the corner of Baseline and Broadway weekly and was damn near ecstatic to see their name on the list.

Off I went.

Arriving, I made for the deli department, explained my situation, told them I had seen them on the list for free meals, and asked what that entailed, exactly.  They looked at me, dumbfounded. They had no idea what I was talking about. I was surprised by this, but they said they would ask a manager and I figured he would know.

I told them, “it’s no big deal, I just saw Whole Foods on the list and was wondering.”

The manager came out to speak to me.  He mumbled something about them maybe doing something at the front of the store, blatantly just as confused as his employee. I waited at the deli counter while the manager and two employees stood 20 feet away from me. They muttered quietly to each other about who knows what, looking over at me from time to time.

I stood there alone for about five to ten minutes, with them mumbling and looking over at me…

…feeling awkward as all hell, embarrassed, eventually a bit humiliated…

…until one of the employees finally walked over to me.  I knew this girl.  She may not have recognized me, but I had checked out at the register many times with her.

“Do you have shoes?  If not, you’re going to have to leave.”

I was torn between confusion and awe, or some mixture of the two.  I didn’t quite understand what was going on. I looked down at my feet, looked up at her, and said, “No?”

“Okay, you need shoes to be in here, so you’re going to have to leave.”

She turned and left toward the registers and I silently made for the door, bare feet slapping against the cold floor. I think my mouth must have been open the entire way “home.” Should I be embarrassed right now? What the f#$! just happened?

Not only did the manager who I had initially talked to not even bother to approach me again, but they didn’t mention a thing about what I had actually been there for.  Yes, I understand I should have had shoes but… really? Couldn’t they have asked me to get my sandals on, and help me out? We were all a little lost, that smoke and fire-filled week.

At some point in my life I had associated Whole Foods with wholesome people. But, of course, we’re all human—and, from time to time, rude.

Never would I have expected my favorite grocery store to pull something like this.

So, I biked to Half Fast. It’s a popular college hangout—not a healthy, happy haven for green living.

They served me barefoot, asked me how I was doing and how my house was. We introduced ourselves personally, and they allowed me to grab chips, drinks, cookies and whatever else I craved, on top of my meal.

Whole Foods, would it really have been that hard to help a sister out?


Marissa Faye is a cultural explorer hailing from the far eastern lands of Sherborn, Massachusetts.

She is like a sponge—absorbing all things around her with a forever unquenched curiosity.  Often times she is hidden away in her mountain fortress, madly writing tales of fact and fiction.

She is a flowerchild at heart and an incurable addict of art, music, food, and the infinite explorations of life.


About elephant journal

elephant journal is dedicated to "bringing together those working (and playing) to create enlightened society." We're about anything that helps us to live a good life that's also good for others, and our planet. >>> Founded as a print magazine in 2002, we went national in 2005 and then (because mainstream magazine distribution is wildly inefficient from an eco-responsible point of view) transitioned online in 2009. >>> elephant's been named to 30 top new media lists, and was voted #1 in the US on twitter's Shorty Awards for #green content...two years running. >>> Get involved: > Subscribe to our free Best of the Week e-newsletter. > Follow us on Twitter Fan us on Facebook. > Write: send article or query. > Advertise. > Pay for what you read, help indie journalism survive and thrive.


36 Responses to “{Update} How I Got Kicked Out of Whole Foods. ~ Marissa Faye”

  1. billycallahan says:

    Come on now…no shoes in a grocery store? What kinda stinky hippie are you?

  2. Mary Holland says:

    You are really questioning her not having shoes on? She didn't have a house at the moment…so what if she didn't have shoes. When your house is not in a massive fire, yeah, you don't forget your shoes when going to a grocery store. But when you are sleeping on someone's couch and you are hungry, hmm…..

  3. elephantjournal says:

    This is Boulder..! Still, I agree and I'm sure Marissa does in retrospect, but everyone was a bit dazed and out of it that week. 8500 acres burned.

    Given the fact that many evacuees didn't have any clothing or possessions or computers…the good folks at WFM could have thought to ask her to get shoes if she had them, or at least been more tactful, nice about booting her and not have left her standing there for 5-10 minutes.

    Just 'cause you're dealing with a "stinky hippie" doesn't mean you have to act like an "cool meanie."

  4. elephantjournal says:

    Great point, Claudia, and awesome that unlike 90% of commenters you're critical and respectful and not anonymous! Kudos. I'll let Marissa respond…

  5. Elise Collins says:

    I am sorry about your loss in the fire. I think that wearing shoes in a grocery store is pretty important. My son who is 11 now used to love to run around barefoot everywhere and I got yelled at so many times in the COOLEST and Best health food stores and co-ops in SF as well as Whole Foods for allowing him to go barefoot. A lot of glass gets broken in grocery stores and it is hard to clean up and it does get in your feet. I had to pull out a lot of splinters and glass out of little feet.I love your free spirit and wish going barefoot was safer in modern stores.

  6. Michael Wolff says:

    Hard to believe.. even most of these comments.. Shoes? Seriously. This kind of stuff happens all the time. Its very sad. Stuff like people forgetting their common humanity. Whole foods was my favorite grocery store. Even the amazing folks at Vitamin Cottage are never as chipper.. Higher morals, right, not wrong. That's what Whole Foods is about. Whole foods sells a few shoes. Sandals, but hey.
    Compassion takes work, takes effort, Takes? No. It gives. To whatever needs. Even if someone needs shoes. Hard to believe… Whole Foods is Whole Wallet. There to Take your money. "next please".

  7. claudiaputnam says:

    That said, though, I still think they had an obligation to carry though and give her the food, which was the first part of my comment. I just resent the GenY thing about rules not applying to them. It was 5 days in to the evac after all, not one day. Most people were getting their kids to school by then, even going on business trips. I even know of one high schooler who took the ACTs the Sat after her house was completely destroyed.

  8. AngelaRaines says:

    One great thing about big corporations is they have the resources to donate money… One bad thing is they promote "corporate-think" where individual employees stop thinking for themselves and start relying exclusively on "policy." This story's a perfect example of those two phenomena clashing. We all need to think for ourselves and strive towards being compassionate, and this story's a great reminder. Thanks for sharing, Marissa!

  9. Mary Panton says:

    Unfortunately, this same Whole Foods refused to allow a poster for the Sunrise Yoga Benefit for the Fire. I was sent to the front checkout person who had absolutely no ability to think for himself about helping the community in need. Corporate rules rule. Funny thing there at the register

  10. bill says:

    remember the story of the the man who had no shoes and felt sorry for himself till he met the man with no feet?
    If they sell shoes lets start there first, then move to the food they were going to help with, but did'nt know about.
    Compassion means giving until its needed and then some…
    Having lost so much and maybe some dignity as well shoes are/were the least of the concerns. As for higher morals. Really???
    Just because they charge more doesn't mean they care more…

  11. Denise says:

    That is pretty sad all they were conserned with was your lack of shoes. I understand the importants of having them on in a store; couldn't they appreciate your situation and help you out. Makes me think of them as just another money hungrey company not really careing about people.

  12. Barbara Jones says:

    What exactly makes being barefoot in a market "rude and presumptuous"? (as opposed to say, unaware and potentially injurious…) And how on earth is that "discourteous" to other customers?

    My actual comment to this story is posted below…

  13. Barbara Jones says:

    I'm with you, Michael! Thanks!!!

  14. But how 'bout those folks at Half Fast Subs in Boulder. How great a neighbor!!

  15. Dear Residents of Utopia,

    In the real world, there are things called "health codes" that restaurants are expected to follow, with stiff fines for non-observance. Look those up before being too critical of Whole Foods for not serving someone who's barefoot.

  16. elephantjournal says:

    via http://www.facebook.com/elephantjournal

    Vicki B
    I have not yet read the response from Whole Foods because once again Twitter is over capacity. I did read the comments on the elephant journal website that were made in connection with Marissa's story. I can't get over how many people could… concentrate only on the fact that Marissa was wearing no shoes. This may be true but if any of you have ever been through anything remotely like she has then you might understand that the whole experience, and the fact that she was hungry may have led to her shoe oversight. Either way, she could have been treated with a bit more compassion and respect. Having been through the experience of standing outside my eight unit apartment building and watching fire shooting out the patio doors of the apartment directly across from mine and being in a panic because I was afraid I was about to lose everything, I can see why a person could possibly forget to put their shoes on.
    Judy F
    On one hand I understand from a sanitary perspective (not saying it's right or wrong but just saying) how Marissa may have appeared as a homeless woman..in essence she was but not as the homeless we are sadly familiar with so Whole Foods wa…s taken back….AND like so many other companies where the employees are often the last to know of some promo or whatever, these employees were clueless of the offer the corporation made or advertised.
    I agree that she should have been treated with a bit more respect and shown some loving-kindness and compassion…
    Whether or not Whole Foods did not like her appearance, they certainly could have given her something from the deli and she would have graciously gone on her way.
    I'm saddened to hear Whole Foods showed little concern for this woman….you know damn well had it been one of their friends or relatives, she would have been treated much differently…someone would have immediately grabbed a pair of those $17 tie dye socks for her footsies ! sigh

    Waylon Lewis of elephantjournal.com
    It's just a sad incident and WFM has been awesome about rectifying the confusion.

    Given the context—half of our mountains-above-Boulder-living friends lost their homes entirely that week, many more including Marissa forcibly evacuate, smoke… filling all of Boulder—it's just a sad surprise that an awesome place like Whole Foods would leave her there, awkward, for five or 10 minutes while talking about her, then ask her to leave, and not too politely or compassionately at that. That said, confusion happens, and WFM has been great about this.

    I'm sure Marissa as well as myself and all of us will go back to being appreciate customers, even more so after seeing how they deal with and respond to such confusions.See More

  17. elephantjournal says:

    Righto: she should have had her shoes on, and WFM could have been quicker and nicer about asking her to leave. Happy ending: Marissa has been invited to meet with them and WFM has been great about this small, but sad moment.

  18. elephantjournal says:

    PS: Ironically, in Buddhist tradition, it'd be considered "rude" to leave your shoes on: http://www.elephantjournal.com/2010/04/take-off-y

  19. Mary Panton says:

    Unfortunately, this same Whole Foods refused to allow a poster for the Sunrise Yoga Benefit for the Fire. I was sent to the front checkout person who had absolutely no ability to think for himself about helping the community in need. Corporate rules rule. Funny thing there at the register; all of the customers came over to see the poster and say they wanted to attend. They thought it was a wonderful opportunity. This Whole Foods is very clearly out of touch with the actual community. It was educational to say the least to see which local stores hold policy above humanity.

  20. claudiaputnam says:

    Yeah, okay. I still say WF should have given her the meal. 🙂 As for its having been a tough week, yup. But some people got their kids to school, went on business trips…one high schooler took her ACTs on the Saturday after her home was completely destroyed. There was a range of functioning. http://sunshine-deb.blogspot.com/ (start at the bottom). I wasn't the greatest myself. Anyway, cheers to all.

  21. elephantjournal says:

    Shelli: It's a little hard to tease out the conversation between you and WFM in the Twitter stream; do you have a transcript?

    Remy Chevalier The proper response should have been: " We're sorry but the health department doesn't allow us to have anyone in the store without shoes on. You'll have to wait outside until we can find out the right person for you to speak with."

    elephantjournal.com Shelli, most of it was on DM, private, but suffice to say they were v. responsive and above and beyond nice.

  22. Sara says:

    Guess what you find when you use the internet? http://www.barefooters.org/osha.html A society trying to encourage barefootedness (what an awkward word). In any case, Whole Foods has the right to deny you service for any reason whatsoever. To clarify, there aren’t any laws regulating footwear for customers, only OSHA laws regarding employees.
    I’m surprised at the lack of compassion and service- it’s the cornerstone of WFM. All grocery stores sell food… WFM sells service and making customers feel like guests. My advice for Marissa is to write a formal letter to the WFM corporate offices and CC a copy to the store’s team leader outlining, in detail, the poor SERVICE received, the lack of information regarding meals for fire victims (this is a marketing failure, surprising because the regional offices are 1.5 miles away) and a lack of answer/solution to your question. WFM is well aware that bad deeds travel farther than good deeds. You might also accept some responsibility for your lack of footwear in your letter. My guess is you would have received better service if you’d apologized or acknowledged your lack of shoes. Perhaps you did and omitted that fact from your story? In any case, sorry to hear about your evacuation, etc. I had friends lose their houses, while fighting the fire.

    Ultimately, I’d classify this under ‘entitlement’.

  23. iloveginger says:

    what experience- sorry for your loss. there is NO WAY i would have served someone without shoes on! common sense. act like a dirty hippie treated like one i suppose.. sorry.

  24. Barbara Jones says:

    Yes, my point is that he is correct about the law. And I wouldn't doubt that the history about individual businesses requiring shoes is correct. When I was a kid in the 50's, we went everywhere barefoot…

    Could have done without the opening insults, though!

  25. Paul says:

    At least THOSE fire fighters were putting out fires!

  26. Lynn Hasselberger says:

    Wonderful article, Marissa. Sorry you had to go through that!!! A bit worrisome that, after a disaster and such loss, people are surprised you neglected to select some footwear from your closet/bedroom. Wow. And hooray for your response! Have things improved over the last few days for you? I hope so! Side note: If I go out dressed in comfy sweats / jeans, no make-up, I am treated COMPLETELY different than when I wear a hip tee, form fitting jeans and a dash of make-up. It's not a subtle difference, believe me. But has taught me to look like I just rolled out of bed if I want to remain "invisible". Cheers to you1

  27. Nye says:

    I think we've determined that for stores, it is likely a liability and insurance issue. Additionally, since people are so USED to wearing shoes in stores/restaurants, it is a bit strange to see when someone is barefoot in such an establishment.

    I agree with you though – I love being barefoot and wish the societal rules (for individual stores/restaurants) were different. I'd go barefoot everywhere if it were possible, but I need to work, I need to shop, and occasionally I like to eat out.

  28. billycallahan says:

    Come on now. Unless she had to flee the house because it was going up in flames (story said that wasn't the case), she most likely had one or more pairs of shoes with her. She deliberately decided to go into Whole Foods without shoes. There is all kinds of glass and gunk in that parking lot. Going barefoot there is not a good idea anyway. If she wants to be like the Rainbow Family and wander town without shoes more power to her, but businesses can tell her to get out until she puts her shoes on. Sounded to me more like she was taking advantage of the freebie food. Sorry she got tired of eating all those free sub sandwiches. I guess there should have been more gourmet options to please her palate available.

  29. billycallahan says:

    Well the next time you're in an Indian Whole Foods you can go barefoot.

  30. jane says:

    I imagine you have never lived through a natural disaster and been reduced to temporarily pennyless homelessness compounded with PTSD. If you had, you might understand that a person in shock may not remember to wear shoes or may not even have any!

    In any case, a little more compassion is in order, for you, and for WF. Those people sell flip flops and they could have given her some, for crying out loud. Or, as others have mentioned, they could have seated her outside to have her meal. All the WF's have outdoor seating.

  31. KaNo says:

    The management at the WF on baseline is pretty much the same as it was when it was when it was Wild Oats. Years ago i worked at WO. They used to dump loads of day old sandwhiches in the garbarge. I would intercept and give them to homeless ppl I'd run into on the bike path. I got fired for it. They haven't really changed. They mostly just want upper middle class people in their store.

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  33. Lucas says:

    In Maui Hawaii people go barefoot in grocery stores all the time. I know it seems weird elsewhere but I see it so often I don't even have a hang up about it anymore.

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