Barnes & Noble will close its Fremont store at the end of December, sparking hope that Whole Foods finally might be coming to town.

Whole Foods spokeswoman Jennifer Marples would only say the grocer is "actively interested" in Fremont and hopes "to be able to serve (it) with a Whole Foods Market store."

The lack of high-end retail, especially an upscale supermarket, long has irked many Fremont residents who frequently have expressed their desire for a Nordstrom, Apple Store and Whole Foods, the nearest of which is across the Bay in Los Altos.

Barnes & Noble officials wouldn't comment on the store's closure, scheduled to occur one month before its lease expires.

Store employees said they were told Barnes & Noble decided to close the business after its landlord, Sunhill Corp., demanded a major rent increase.

Sunhill Corp. did not return phone calls seeking comment.

The bookstore's size and location at the Fremont Plaza shopping center, near Fremont Boulevard and Mowry Avenue, has generated speculation of Whole Foods' arrival.

For several years the supermarket chain has told Fremont officials that the intersection was its first choice for Fremont, said Lori Taylor, the city's economic development director.

The other major shopping center at the intersection, the Fremont Hub, already is home to a Safeway and Trader Joe's, which could have leases precluding additional competition, city officials said.

However there is no supermarket at Fremont Plaza. And the estimated 27,000-square-foot bookstore site would be large enough for a small Whole Foods.

Barnes & Noble recently closed its only Oakland store.

Store employees said they will have the opportunity to transfer to other East Bay locations.

Taylor said the city didn't know what business will replace the bookstore, but it would welcome Whole Foods.

"We have long pursued them and think they would be wonderful in our market," she said.

Contact Matthew Artz at 510-353-7002. For more Fremont news, read his blog at www.ibabuzz.com/tricitybeat.