Whole Foods Market will open its first Savannah store on Aug. 13, more than a year ahead of schedule, the specialty foods retailer announced Tuesday.

"We really look forward to opening our doors and being part of the Savannah community," said Rachel Jones, manager of Whole Foods' Savannah location.

The store, located on the former Backus automobile dealership on Victory Drive near Truman Parkway, has been in development since May 2012. Atlanta-based developers Knightswood and S.J. Collins Enterprises demolished Backus' trademark pink buildings and several neighboring structures to construct the Victory Station shopping center.

The center will be home to Whole Foods, a PetSmart and a handful of small retailers.

Whole Foods' 35,000-square-foot store will open at 9 a.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 13, and feature an organic salad bar, in-store smoked barbecue, fresh-made gelato, natural body care products and nutritional supplements and a parlor with eight beers on tap.

Whole Foods is the second national specialty supermarket to open a store in Savannah. Rival Fresh Market has a location on Abercorn Street.

Count Fresh Market regulars, the Danos family, among those anxious to try out Whole Foods.

"We've never shopped in a Whole Foods before, but we've heard about all they have to offer," Tommy Danos said. "Supposedly, they have nothing but the best in organic and healthy foods." 

Whole Foods' opening has been highly anticipated in recent months. The exterior work on the shopping center was completed in the spring, and the Georgia Department of Transportation completed accessibility improvements to Victory Drive in June. The changes included a new traffic light at the Victory Drive-Dixie Avenue intersection.

The store captured the public's imagination a few weeks back with the painting of a 20-foot-by-70-foot mural on the façade facing the Truman Parkway. The painting incorporates several Savannah landmarks, including the Talmadge Bridge and City Hall.

Whole Foods worked with the Savannah College of Art and Design on the mural's design.

Whole Foods store will employ 125 workers and hiring is currently underway.

The store opening will end years of public anticipation. Whole Foods was an oft-rumored tenant for several potential commercial developments over the years, including one planned for where Abercorn Terrace sits now and another near Wilshire Avenue on Savannah's southside.

The closure of the Backus dealership in October 2009 and its listing for sale added to the speculation. The property went under contract to the current developers in April 2011.

Whole Foods was officially announced as the anchor tenant in May 2012, with the company projected a fall 2014 opening. Marketing for other retail spaces in Victory Station listed a fall 2013 availability, however, leading to speculation Whole Foods would open this year.

Yet Whole Foods stuck to its 2014 projection until making Tuesday's announcement.

Whole Foods will offer "sneak preview" tours of its new Savannah store on Aug. 9 and 10. A $5 donation to the West Broad Street YMCA's Growing Edge Community Garden Projects entitles members of the public to the tours, which will include taste samples and a goodie bag.

Advance registration is required and opens Monday at http://savannah.wholefoodsrsvp.com.