When a Store Leaves Town
What happens to a community when a popular store closes its doors?
On the day the Sprouts Farmers Market in Wellington, Fl. announced it was closing, social media lit up with speculation, blaming everything from food prices and inflation to disputes with the landlord. No one knew for certain – the Sprouts CEO hadn’t yet released a statement – but the mood online was somber. The same could be said of the mood inside the store where employees busied themselves stocking soon-to-be empty shelves and answering the probing questions of customers.
“It feels like a sad divorce,” said one cashier, as she moved products along the conveyor belt and into plastic bags. “We’ll be transferred to a new store, but none of us want to leave.” Several nearby customers looked up from their phones to listen – perhaps to catch new information or gossip – before looking back down again. For the majority of Wellington shoppers, the departure of Sprouts was simply another store to leave town. There have, in fact, been quite a few as of late.
Though the initial response appeared gloomy, especially online, one might’ve expected a stronger reaction – especially as popular stores continue to vanish. The Mall at Wellington Green lost several over the past few years including GAP, Banana Republic, JoS A Bank, Ann Taylor Loft, and Brooks Brothers – just to name a few, and in 2019, the luxury department store, Nordstrom, closed its doors as well. Sports Authority, another big box retailer, along with Toys"R"Us, filed for bankruptcy several years ago, and consequently, left large empty spaces in their wake. Recently, within the last few months in fact, The Fresh Market, Bed Bath & Beyond, and buybuy BABY have all closed their stores. That leaves us with Sprouts– and despite its wide-spread appeal – it was simply another sad casualty in retail’s economic battles, both here at home and across the country.
When Sprouts came to Wellington, in March 2019, it opened to huge crowds, offering shoppers a range of foods, vitamins, beer, and wine, emphasizing the holistic, organic, and natural. But its arrival came at an inopportune time as the COVID pandemic started not long after – forcing the chain to follow local government lockdown and mandate restrictions –which resulted in the restructuring of daily operations. While many longstanding stores such as Whole Foods or Publix could better absorb these drastic shifts, newer retailers faced an uphill battle– some of whom never recovered.
According to Sprouts Farmers Market CEO Jack Sinclair, the Wellington store in addition to several others around the country, are considered “underperforming locations” with building size a primary factor. In a statement, Sprouts said that it chose to keep these stores open as the pandemic struck, “so our communities would continue to have access to fresh, healthy groceries” but that the company "recently revisited that decision."
While the phrase “underperforming locations” is less dire than it sounds, at least in this case – since employees can keep their jobs at stores elsewhere – it stings nonetheless. In just four years, Sprouts in Wellington had grown its roots, establishing itself as a major competitor with nearby food chains — most with longstanding ties in the region — and became the preferred shopping location for many residents living in subdivisions along State Rd. 7. What’s more, the store earned a highly-coveted “neighborly” status as employees and shoppers knew one another by name, exemplifying what it means to truly be part of a neighborhood.
Then, there’s the building itself. Sitting empty for many years, Sprouts Inc, transformed half of the deserted Sports Authority (the other half is now a Retro Fitness) from a massive chunk of dead concrete to a building brimming with greenery, colorful produce, and cheerful isles where even the bread section looked alive. With just a quick glance into the glass front doors, one can instantly appreciate the warm lighting and store arrangements – sending the type of friendly vibes every town should want. The Sprouts in Wellington had indeed become a great neighbor – welcoming, dependable, loyal, and always there.
Though all is not lost, there are some rays of hope for Sprouts aficionados and store employees. Three stores – Jupiter, West Palm Beach, and Boynton – will absorb the staff so none are at risk of being unemployed. As one associate told me, she’s going to Boynton but hopes they open another location in Wellington sometime soon. “This is my home,” she said.
Indeed, it was a home for us, too.
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