Gelson's opening

Residents lined up around the block to celebrate the opening of Santa Monica’s latest grocery store on March 17.

Gelson’s held a grand opening at the newly branded store on Lincoln Boulevard, and while the first 200 customers received a $20 coupon, many more flocked to the newly opened retailer throughout the day.

Gelson’s is the third company to operate a market at that site in recent years after taking over from Haggen.

Haggen is a small grocery chain based out of Washington. In 2014 the company said it would purchase 146 stores that Safeway/Albertsons were forced to sell when the two giants merged. Haggen grew from 18 stores with 16 pharmacies to 164 stores with 106 pharmacies; and from 2,000 employees to more than 10,000 employees.

At the time of purchase, Haggen said it would rely on cooperation from the newly merged Safeway/Albertsons to facilitate the transition process. However, the two companies quickly began accusing each other of wrongdoing and multiple lawsuits were filed.

Haggen filed for bankruptcy on Sept. 10 of last year and at that time announced some store closures. Some stores were sold, including the Santa Monica location. Southern California based Gelson’s purchased several stores and the Santa Monica store is the fourth to be reopened this year. Founded in 1951, Gelson’s currently operates 21 full-service specialty grocery stores in Southern California.

“With its proximity to a variety of diverse neighborhoods, its iconic beach culture and residents’ appreciation for the great food of the Southern California lifestyle, Santa Monica is an ideal community to open a Gelson’s store,” said Rob McDougall, Gelson’s president and CEO. “We are thrilled to launch our first store in Santa Monica – our 22nd store overall – and we know the local community will appreciate the premium-quality merchandise and exceptional customer service that has become the hallmark of Gelson’s.”

McDougall said his company would succeed in the location based on service and quality.

“Our customer service is better than anyone around us,” he said.

Unlike most grocery stores, each Gelson’s makes its prepared foods in house and the prepared foods are made using the same produce and meat sold to customers. McDougall said his approach is more expensive, but that it translates to a significantly better quality product.

“I’m not going to get the customer that is cost shopping and comparing us to Wal-Mart or Smart & Final,” he said.

However, he said customers that want a more complete store compared to Whole Foods or Ralphs customers that want a higher quality of perishable goods would be attracted to Gelson’s. McDougall said the company’s local roots also help to support local products.

“We stock a lot of local companies and products,” he said. “We were the first in the nation to carry Jessica Alba’s Honest products.”

McDougall said his company did their research before investing in the Santa Monica store and he believes there is enough business to support a grocery store, particularly at that location.

While the store is open for business, McDougall said customers will notice continued changes and upgrades over time. He said the store plans to add a wine bar, craft beers and raw bar, but he said it was important to open the doors as soon as possible. He said a relatively quick opening allows customers to return to their neighborhood store, but just as important, it provides work for many of the employees that have endured a rocky few years.

Many of the now Gelson’s employees worked for both Haggen and Albertsons. McDougall said retaining their relationships with customers is one of the ways Gelson’s will increase the customer service level.

“The reality is I can’t staff a store with all newbies,” he said, “I need these employees.”

Gelson’s is located at 2627 Lincoln Blvd. For more information, visit

Matthew Hall has a Masters Degree in International Journalism from City University in London and has been Editor-in-Chief of SMDP since 2014. Prior to working at SMDP he managed a chain of weekly papers...