Whole Foods Market is coming to Oxnard. But not in 2009, and maybe not even in 2010.
The upscale health food retailer will have 173 employees in Santa Barbara when it opens its doors there on Oct. 7, but it may be quite a while before Oxnard sees its branch come to fruition.
Originally set to open in fall 2009, Whole Foods representatives told the Business Times that the opening date will be sometime October 2010 or later. The economy is to blame.
“The Oxnard location is not scheduled to open during our next fiscal year,” said Whole Foods spokesman Keith Creighton. “Introducing a successful store to a thriving location is a process that takes many years. Often, as soon as the real estate deal is made public, there is an expectation that the store will soon follow.”
In late 2008, Whole Foods inked a deal with Shea Properties to anchor its Collection at RiverPark, a 600,000-square-foot mixed-use center in Oxnard.
Linda Hagelis of The Hagelis Group in Ventura said she negotiated a 20-year lease for a 50,000-square-foot space in the Collection.
“There is a huge void for this type of use in the area, with the closest stores in Thousand Oaks-Westlake Village and Santa Barbara,” Hagelis said, adding that Whole Foods is extremely particular about the sites where it will build.
For Santa Barbara, though, the company was perfectly willing to make a few exceptions.
Usually, Whole Foods looks for stores with 40,000 to 75,000 square feet of space. The former Circuit City location on upper State Street didn’t meet the grocer’s usual requirements, but it went ahead with the 23,000-square-foot store anyway – even though only 18,000 square feet of the building will be used for retail purposes.
Parking and traffic congestion were another issue. A city draft report estimated that Whole Foods would bring 180 more daily trips to the already-busy intersection of State and Hitchcock Way. The findings upset a handful of local organizations, but Santa Barbara store manager John Jurey doesn’t think there’s anything to worry about. “The parking here is reasonable,” he said. “OK, so we have a smaller store. That just means that the parking situation should be fine. Believe me.”
Jurey, who has worked for Whole Foods for almost 13 years, said he spent some time in June scoping out other area grocers, including Trader Joe’s and Lazy Acres Market. “Competition is healthy. Of course I checked out the competition,” he said. “But I wasn’t completely focused on that; I also checked out the farmers market.”
Jurey said he will “absolutely, most definitely” use local suppliers to stock the store’s shelves. He said he has looked into everything from local wines and olive oil to regional produce and flowers. “Everything we can find locally – right down to the honey – we’d like to get from the community,” Jurey said.
In fact, he wants to make it a major point for Whole Foods to be involved in the area. He is already making a mental list of community organizations the grocery store could partner with.
“We’re obviously going to be doing a lot of work with the YMCA, because they’re right next door,” Jurey said. “And I know there are quite a few nonprofits and environmental groups in the area, so we’d consider partnering with some of them. Whole Foods is big on preservation efforts. At my last store, we worked with a group called Heal the Bay; we may be interested something similar in Santa Barbara.”
Jurey said that a few days a year, Whole Foods will donate a percentage of its sales to Santa Barbara organizations. But the mere presence of the health food store may bring enough business to upper State Street to reinvigorate the area.
Whether it’s in Santa Barbara or Oxnard, “having Whole Foods as a major key tenant brings other top-quality tenants,” said Hagelis, who worked alongside Whole Foods for five years before convincing the company to open a 36,000-square-foot store at 740 Moorpark Road in Thousand Oaks in 2005.
While Creighton said single-store sales figures aren’t released, the store is a popular destination for commuters and Conejo Valley residents.
The Austin-based company operates 280 stores in 38 states and several stores in Canada and the United Kingdom. It’s taken a while for Whole Foods to warm up to the idea of expanding into the Tri-Counties, but it’s on a roll now, with three locations in Ventura and Santa Barbara counties opening in a five-year span.