Green-shirted staff members wave a line of 10 customers through the sliding doors of Sprouts, a grocery store specializing in health foods.
Inside, employees wearing gloves arrange produce into pyramid-like displays. Tags labeled “plant-based” and “gluten-free” flutter as carts zip pass.
Sprouts opened its newest location at 29 S. Milpas St. Wednesday, led by interim store manager Eric Sustin. He saw people peering through the windows prior to opening, and he met a mother and daughter that planned ahead to shop on the opening day.
“It’s a big deal to have Sprouts around here,” customer and local resident Jim Head said. He usually shops for fresh foods, but the only other healthy grocery store nearby is Trader Joe’s. But he’s tired of shopping there.
Mr. Sustin hopes the store can provide a healthy option for residents.
“People want to make a change, so they come to us,” he said.
Studies across the United States show a relationship between income level and racial characteristics of a community and lower access to healthy foods, according to a September 2012 review in the American Journal of Public Health. It also shows that diabetes disproportionally affects communities of color.
The median income of the Census tract surrounding Sprouts is $64,763. This is around $10,000 under the city’s median income, according to the United States Census Bureau website. The tract is also 65.9% Hispanic or Latino and 4.5% black, almost double the percentages of the city.
Mr. Sustin said Sprouts is dedicated to the community, a promise the store backs up with food bank donations. Every day, the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County picks up food the store didn’t sell — starting today, the second day the store is open.
The store employs 110 people from across the county. Mr. Sustin said the team met at the start of business on Wednesday, and he could tell his employees were smiling even through the masks.
“It’s a real challenge opening a store during a pandemic,” he said. “But everybody’s challenged the same, and it brought us together.”
Two staff members hand dethorned, white roses to customers as they leave the store. A decal above the exit reads: “Have a healthy day.”