If Sex and the City were still filming in Manhattan, the Whole Foods Market at Columbus Circle would likely be part of the scenery. See Carrie drop in at the café for a Jamba Juice smoothie with friends. Watch Samantha order cases of the champagne du jour from The Wine Shop. View Miranda grabbing prepared dinner from one of three ethnic food hot bars or two fresh-food prepared sections before heading downtown to Brooklyn. And observe Charlotte search for a nice piece of brisket for Sabbath dinner.

Whole Foods is quintessential New York: stylish, pricey and snooty. It's so snooty that it won't talk to the “trade press.” Our photographer was tossed out, but not before he captured snaps of the masses entering and leaving the 59,000-square-foot basement store at Time Warner Center (above), a colorful array of apples (top left) and a tete-a-tete at the chic café, which seats 500 (bottom left).

While New York has always been a shopper's paradise, it's only recently been embraced by gourmet food store chains. With retail space expensive, and products relatively low-priced, compared to, say, a $6,000 Chanel suit, volume is essential. Food savvy New Yorkers are showing up in throngs.

Whole Foods has been so successful(it opened its third Manhattan store in March on 14th Street in Union Square Park, downtown and crosstown from the Time Warner Center and just north of Greenwich Village), that it's luring other chains to the Big Apple. Manhattan's first Trader Joe's reportedly plans to open nearby.

Union Square, which by the way boasts an outdoors farmers' market most days of the week, has the target demographic. “It's densely populated with great restaurants, which means people there care about food,” says Michael Ordan, CEO of the new Balducci's gourmet chain. Ordan founded of Fresh Fields markets, now owned by Whole Foods.

A few avenues to the West, Balducci's (above) plans to open a 15,000-square-foot grand food hall on Eighth Avenue in the landmark New York Savings Bank building. The Siena marble pilasters and wainscoting will remain, as will the stained-glass windows and bronze window casings.

The old Balducci's flagship was in the Village, and, many say mismanagement killed it after Sutton Place Gourmet took over the family business. The new owners, backed by Bear Stearns Merchant Bank, renamed the Sutton chain and stores Balducci's and promises to bring back the family ethic.

At its height, Balducci's, along with Fairway and Zabar's, provided the city with the gourmet food residents craved — one reason high-class food chains stayed out of the city.

Food fight, anyone?

Vitals

Location: Time Warner Center/New York City

Size: 59,000 square feet

Opened: February 2004

Owner: Whole Foods Market Inc.

Sections: The Wine Shop, bakery, catering, coffee, flowers, meat and poultry, prepared foods, produce, seafood, specialty, whole body.