Sprouts Farmers Market, the Phoenix-based chain of supermarkets, opened another store in Pasadena this past Wednesday. Sprouts is owned by the Boney family, who owned the Henry's Marketplace chain before it was sold to Wild Oats (now owned by Whole Foods) in 1999. If you're keeping track on your grocery store genealogical chart. The first Sprouts opened in Arizona in 2002, and the fast-growing chain now has 52 stores across the southwest, including sixteen in California. Of those sixteen, six are in Los Angeles. In addition to the Pasadena store, a Sprouts opened in Culver City in June and a market will open in Valencia on September 1st.
Sprouts markets are typically large places, resembling warehouses as much as grocery stores, filled with bins and shelves of products that include both high-end natural and organic items as well as lower-priced bulk items. The Pasadena store went into a vacant Circuit City, and is conveniently located just off the 210 a few miles east of Old Town and within walking (well, if anyone walked here) distance of both a Ralph's and a Whole Foods. Neither the proximity to other markets — the staff at Sprouts this past Wednesday described the place as being Whole Foods products at Trader Joe's prices — nor the enormous, cavernous space are necessarily accidental.
“It's kind of like a bowling alley,” said Joe Dobrow, Sprouts VP of marketing, who was on hand for the grand opening (multicolored balloons, $1 pineapples). Many of the Sprouts markets that have opened recently have gone into empty Circuit City, Mervyns and Linens 'n Things locations: all three retailers declared bankruptcy in the last several years. Thus Sprouts markets can move in, replacing the rows of electronics or stacks of 200-thread-count sheets with flats of strawberries and bins of rolled oats and gummi bears. In a questionable economy, Dobrow pointed out, this translates a vacant lot into bargain shopping. The Pasadena store was the 10th Sprouts market to open this year.
The loft-like 31,000 square-foot space, filled with boxes of natural soda cans and ears of fresh corn stacked like lumber — the market will also have rows of beer and wine next month, when they get their liquor license — is as wide open as a Costco. Which of course is not accidental either, as people tend to associate, with good reason, warehouses with bargains. It also has a specialized up-market flare along with the determined country mart aesthetic.
Proceed to the check-out, and you'll find that the happy magazines include not only Cooking With Paula Deen, but Saveur and Cook's Illustrated. Of course, as an older local woman slowly pushing a shopping cart under the balloons noted to both the VP of marketing and this writer: the real competition in Pasadena might not be Trader Joe's or Vons or Whole Foods at all, but Altadena's Super King.
Sprouts Farmers Market: 39 N. Rosemead Blvd., Pasadena; (626) 696-1290. Open daily 7 a.m. – 10 p.m.