The Alfalfa's Market location in Boulder. Christopher Wood/BizWest

Alfalfa’s Market to close flagship store in Boulder

BOULDER — Alfalfa’s Market will shutter its flagship store, ending almost 38 years of life on one of the city’s main strips after the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced one of its core business operations to stop.

The market at 1651 Broadway in downtown Boulder will begin a sale on Friday and will close next week depending on the outcome of that clearance.

In an interview, Alfalfa’s president Mark Homlish said the store’s cafe and prepared-foods department had been shuttered since the start of the pandemic, as it catered mainly to preparing meals for Boulder High School, the University of Colorado Boulder and various local businesses. That contributed about a third of the store’s revenues in normal times.

The store’s remaining floor space wasn’t enough to make the location an attraction to people looking to fill their pantries, and customer foot traffic fell an estimated 60%.

Those revenue pressures, combined with the expensive real estate and the competition from other natural grocers in Boulder, led Alfalfa’s to seek a lease termination with its landlord.

“It’s a landmark in Boulder in a lot of ways, and we’re disappointed we couldn’t make it work,” he said. “It’s an expensive location, and COVID affecting our sales just exacerbated that.”

It’s unclear exactly how many employees are affected by the closure, as the three stores in Boulder, Longmont and Louisville frequently send staff between each location based on demand or seasonality. The company estimates that between 40 and 75 employees work at each store.

Alfalfa’s history spans more than 40 years in Boulder, when it was founded by a group including Mark Retzloff and Hass Hassan. It was first founded as Pearl Street Market in 1979 before demand pushed the store to move into the Broadway location four years later. It continued to add locations until Wild Oats Marketplace acquired it in 1996.

After Whole Foods Market acquired Wild Oats in 2007, Retzloff and Barney Feinblum bought the Broadway store and Alfalfa’s name. They later sold their ownership stakes in 2017.

Hamlish said the two other stores in Longmont and Louisville have had some decline in foot traffic during the pandemic but not to the extent where it would necessitate closures. Those cities have larger family populations, he said, and sales patterns there suggest those stores are being used to fill pantries versus serving as a convenience store that the Boulder location had become.

Although it won’t have a physical presence in the city, Alfalfa’s intends to service the city through e-commerce and deliveries out of its Louisville store. Hamlish also didn’t rule out reopening in Boulder in a smaller location, and said Alfalfa’s is eyeing locations in Denver.

The closure of the Broadway location marks another twist in the sometimes volatile and competitive natural-foods space in Boulder. Lucky’s Market was founded in the city and grew into a national brand before it filed for bankruptcy early last year.

Alfalfa’s opened its Longmont store last October, taking a space vacated by Lucky’s.

Meanwhile, the Amazon-backed Whole Foods Market opened its second store in the Table Mesa Shopping Center on Wednesday, also in a former Lucky’s location.

Boulder Chamber CEO and president John Tayer said the loss of the store at the corner of Broadway and Arapahoe Avenue is a loss to the city’s economic history as it supported so many natural-foods startups through putting locally developed goods on its shelves.

While newer food startups will be able to find shelf space on other grocery stores in the city, Tayer said the model of community relationship-building that the natural grocer industry broadly follows was pioneered by Alfalfa’s.

“I think Alfalfa’s … is one of the forerunners,” he said. “It’s a model that they started, and it was a significant boost to what ultimately has become our stature as a center for natural product development.”

Retzloff, one of the company’s co-founders who later went on to found and manage several natural-foods companies in the area, told BizWest that the store struggled to break even most of the time during his second stint as owner due to the high real estate costs. He wasn’t surprised to hear of the store’s closure.

However, he said that store was one of his passions among the many businesses he managed, and it inspired him to expand his portfolio of goods. When his customers asked him why he wasn’t carrying organic milk, Retzloff partnered with Paul Repetto to source the product from a co-op in Wisconsin.

The company later went public, and was acquired by milk giant Dean Foods. It later joined Broomfield’s WhiteWave Foods as part of Dean, and was sold to Danone North America.

Retzloff said he personally thanks every customer, vendor, employee and anyone else that supported the store over the decades, because that support planted the seeds for an industry that has defined Boulder and led the way for changes in what kinds of food Americans buy.

“Their support has allowed that to happen, for all these 300, 400, 500 companies that are somehow associated with Boulder, to be here, and all the thousands of people that work at those companies,” he said. “Alfalfa’s was one of the organizations that stimulated that.”

© 2021 BizWest Media LLC

BOULDER — Alfalfa’s Market will shutter its flagship store, ending almost 38 years of life on one of the city’s main strips after the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic forced one of its core business operations to stop.

The market at 1651 Broadway in downtown Boulder will begin a sale on Friday and will close next week depending on the outcome of that clearance.

In an interview, Alfalfa’s president Mark Homlish said the store’s cafe and prepared-foods department had been shuttered since the start of the pandemic, as it catered mainly to preparing meals for Boulder High School, the University of Colorado Boulder and various local businesses. That contributed about a third of the store’s revenues in normal times.

The store’s remaining floor space wasn’t enough to make the location an attraction to people looking to fill their pantries, and customer foot traffic fell an estimated 60%.

Those revenue pressures, combined with the expensive real estate and the competition from other natural grocers in Boulder, led Alfalfa’s to seek a lease termination with its landlord.

“It’s a landmark in Boulder in a lot of ways, and we’re disappointed we couldn’t make it work,” he said. “It’s an expensive location, and COVID affecting our sales just exacerbated that.”

It’s unclear exactly how many employees are affected by the closure, as the three stores in Boulder, Longmont and Louisville frequently send staff between each location based on demand or seasonality. The company estimates that between 40 and 75 employees work at each store.

Alfalfa’s history spans more than 40 years in…