Erewhon Organic Grocer and Cafe opened its fourth location on Wednesday in Santa Monica, Calif. Located at 2800 Wilshire Boulevard, the new store boasts a vibrant, modern format designed to capture the healthy, active lifestyle of its surrounding community. It features bright skylights, sprawling windows, an outdoor patio and terraced courtyard, as well as the retailer’s signature organic, local and better-for-you product offerings.
The California-based organic grocer tapped lead design architect Montalba Architects and executive architect Retail Design Collaborative (RDC) to develop a store that responds to consumers' rapidly changing demands, with millennials’ desire for an all-encompassing social shopping experience at the forefront.
“Erewhon is positioned for great success due in part to geography, as well to staying the course as it relates to the highest-quality organic foods,” David Sheldon, VP of client engagement at Long Beach, Calif.-based RDC, tells WGB. “Starting with what Erewhon did with their Venice store, and now the new store experience in Santa Monica, shoppers will have a distinct opportunity to engage with the outdoor environments as well as a social shopping experience. We don't think creating unique places is a premium add-on, but rather an expectation that customers have.”
A Garden Oasis
A unique outdoor garden terrace serves as the store’s focal point, allowing shoppers to connect with nature amongst an urban setting as well as socially connect with each other while shopping. The garden features tables and chairs beneath a cedar trellis, and is filled with sprawling plants that were designed to grow onto the building over time to create a natural, lush store exterior along Wilshire and Harvard Boulevards.
“The most prominent corner of the building was intentionally carved away to create a landscape that interfaces directly with and softens the experience along the Wilshire/Harvard intersection,” says David Montalba, founding principal at Los Angeles-based Montalba Architects. “The garden terracing affords gathering zones along with sidewalk, as well as spaces that interface with the market interior and are sheltered from the busy street.”
To incorporate this social haven with the grocery shopping experience, Montalba Architects renovated the single-story 12,000-square-foot building from its original 1993 single-tenant structure to a 12,500-square-foot multilayered space with a contemporary facade.
Erewhon Santa Monica’s location on a busy intersection factored heavily when designing the store’s format, with the west side of the store representing the “Southern California vibe” of healthy and informed consumers who balance activity and Zen, according to Tony Antoci, Erewhon’s CEO. “Erewhon is more than a store—it is a place where people gather, explore and share their passion for pure food and products,” he says. “Our Santa Monica location is filled with natural light and an amazing indoor/outdoor sense of space. We hope it will become a place for the community to linger and to learn.”
Let There Be Light
Erewhon’s interior boasts similar unique features designed to capture natural and outdoor elements within the traditionally closed confines of a grocery store. The sprawling skylights allow natural light to flood the interior and mirror the large roof cavity that was carved out over the gardens, says Montalba. Sculptured soffits and suspended opaque glass help to soften the light and direct it throughout the store, while “helping fade one’s awareness of the glass wall that defines the building edge.”
Additional elements include a new full-height storefront glazing along the north and west facades, which were also designed to emphasize the natural light. The west facade is screened by a trellis garden and opaque glass film, offering shoppers street visibility from within the store to again connect indoors with outdoors.
“New storefront windows were introduced along both street frontages to provide a strong visual connectivity between the public streets, gardens and the market space,” Montalba says. “Where trees were not feasible, perforated trellis panels indoor and outdoor impart the dappled light effect of being under a tree canopy.”
Social Shopping Experience
In a city that offers nearly every type of grocery store—from small-scale 2,000-square-foot convenience markets to larger formats such as Whole Foods Market, Ralphs, Trader Joe’s and Gelson’s Markets—Santa Monica consumers are known to shop multiple times per week at a variety of different store types, says Sheldon. Thus, they often visit Erewhon weekly and sometimes daily for its high-quality offerings. “Erewhon will fit perfectly into this demographic and capture a missing part of the shopper's weekly experience,” he says.
The new store was designed to differentiate itself from the competition through its fresh and local food, 100% organic produce, smaller-name brands and social settings.
“The initial conversations about the Erewhon brand and desire for this particular location kept returning to the idea of an urban outdoor market in the community with fresh food—the antithesis of a closed warehouse of goods,” says Montalba. “To that end, we knew that views in and out of the market, strong natural light, and an outdoor gathering space were important factors to creating this feeling of engagement with the urban setting and community.”
Erewhon offers an Organic Cafe, featuring an open kitchen and counter seating where shoppers can dine and socialize over pure, organic and local dishes, as well as a Tonic & Juice Bar with eight varieties of kombucha on tap, an Italian pizza oven, and a nutrition department with expert staff members trained to guide shoppers through their health and wellness journeys.
“At Erewhon, the food is at the core of everything, with vibrant produce, colorful ingredients and curated products," Montalba said in a statement following the store’s grand opening. “Ultimately, we wanted the design, architecture and landscape to be a platform to showcase the food and foster engagement with guests.”
With a customer base that is highly informed and proactive in their shopping habits, Erewhon highlights its nutritional offerings at the Tonic Bar, featuring adaptogens, functional ingredients and ancient herbs and techniques, says Antoci. “This year, we launched our made-in-house organic adaptogenic bone broth cleanse and it was very well received. We’re also seeing exciting developments in CBD across all of our departments,” he says.
Organic, Local, Sustainable
“A lot has changed since Erewhon opened its first LA location in 1968,” Antoci said in a statement. “But what hasn’t changed is the soul of the Erewhon community: They are curious, conscious shoppers who love discovering innovative ingredients and brands. They are committed to pure foods and to supporting companies that are mission-aligned.”
Erewhon touts its 100% organic produce toward the health- and wellness-focused Santa Monica community, merchandised in fresh, vibrant displays. Its staff of 70 employees per shift is highly trained to communicate the stories of the farmers and innovative brands that are carried throughout the store’s departments. The retailer makes its product recommendations from the store level, often after meeting with the brand’s founder, according to the retailer.
“Santa Monica is a conscious and engaged community centered around health and wellness,” says Antoci. “We curated our product mix to serve this discerning customer. We’re excited to introduce them to new, local and innovative brands.”
Understanding the Consumer
“We have shoppers who come in multiple times a day,” says Antoci. “We have the discoverer, who loves to linger in the aisles and seep up knowledge before making decisions. We have our regulars, who know they can only find products like Apricot Lane Farm's biodynamic eggs and produce at Erewhon and make it a point to shop with us. Our connection to our vendors and to our shoppers runs deep.”
Consumers of the Southern California community are accustomed to having access to the high-quality organic food options upon which Erewhon has built its reputation and customer loyalty, according to Sheldon. Added features such as the bike display reflect shoppers’ active lifestyles while they peruse the aisles for sustainable, wholesome products.
“Design decisions were made by reflecting back to the idea of an urban outdoor market,” says Montalba. “The horizontal surfaces of countertops were selected to echo the horizontal surface at the gardens/gravel. The planters and skylights were detailed with the same interior beveled edges, which serve to provide a wider spread of light diffusion as well as wider planting space. Everything else is kept as simple as possible to allow the main gesture of this market to speak loudest—that of a market engaged with the local environment and community.”
Balancing Design and Functionality
RDC oversaw not only Erewhon Santa Monica’s unique design elements, but also the functional execution of the market. “With markets as unique as Erewhon, it’s critical to strike a careful balance between the design features and functional efficiencies,” said Sheldon in the statement. “Their full-service experience added a tremendous value to Erewhon to ensure that the balance was met, and the overall guest experience exceeded expectations.”
RDC has served grocery stores for more than 25 years, completing more than 1,000 markets nationwide. “We view our engagement with our grocer clients more as a partnership than anything else,” says Sheldon. “Oftentimes we're engaged at looking at design, branding, execution, maintenance and procurement solutions in addition to our standard architectural solutions.”
Construction of the new store was completed on March 20, spearheaded by Abbott Construction, with Operations Manager Larry Lantero as project lead.
Photos by Carlos R. Hernandez