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Guestwords: Erewhon Dreaming

Wed, 01/10/2024 - 16:53

Well, New Yorkers, I hope you’re collectively not too disappointed, but it looks like the rumors of an Erewhon pop-up store opening in New York were just that — rumors. In case you can’t wait to get their best-selling, life-affirming Camel milk you may need to head to any of the eight Los Angeles locations.

If you’ve ever visited the City of Angels and shopped at Erewhon, you’re most likely aware that the luxury grocery store is the trendiest place in Los Angeles to see and be seen. Forget the Polo Lounge, SoulCycle, or Nobu. Erewhon is where ultrachic, beautiful people shop for gorgeously displayed organic vegetables, a dizzying kaleidoscope of hand-pressed juices, bespoke $21 smoothies, and other ultrahip goodies your local Stop & Shop may not carry. But you’ve come to the right place if you need a private-label hoodie for $185 (oops — sold out), sea moss gel for $38, or $45 maple syrup. No need to bother with coupon-clipping at Erewhon, but E.B.T. cards are welcomed.

Some may shop at Erewhon for the health advantages of eating organically or the selfie benefits of potentially becoming the next viral mega influencer. Or maybe it’s as straightforward as being wowed by even more beautiful people who call Erewhon their not-so-mom-and-pop corner store. Whatever the reason, the hype is real; the shopping experience is far from ordinary, at least for me.

When an Erewhon opened in 2016 around the corner from my apartment in Venice, I was casually enthusiastic, despite not having been inside an Erewhon in decades. In those days, the original store on Beverly Boulevard was the only location in Los Angeles. It was a delightfully fun and funky anomaly. Health food stores barely existed, and when found were dimly lit, seriously dingy, bleak places to shop. But over the years, with gentrification and expansion into other Los Angeles areas, Erewhon has become synonymous with more-than-overpriced, glistening organic, natural foods. 

Last week, heading home from my delightfully familiar, friendly grocery store, Trader Joe’s, I realized I’d forgotten coffee, an essential item on my market list. Groaning, I knew I’d either be noncaffeinated the following day or begrudgingly stop at Erewhon.

The decision made, I pulled closer to the parking lot. A line of Range Rovers, Teslas, and Porsche S.U.V.s idled (spewing various degrees of CO2 emissions), blocking traffic as they waited to enter the valet-parking-only lot. I passed by and rounded the corner, squeezing into a spot two blocks away between several rotting tents and decaying R.V.s. Dodging piles of trash on the sidewalk, I wriggled past the waiting cars toward the entrance.

Checking my reflection in the store window, I smoothed my shirt, applied some lipstick, and fluffed my hair. These steps were necessary since I might run into someone important, or worse, be caught in the background of an influencer’s selfie.

Slipping in for the first time since it opened seven years earlier, I made my way to the back of the store. Passing the glorious bounty of glimmering, picture-perfect vegetables, and the crowd-control stanchions in the prepared-food-to-go section, I searched for the coffee beans. Against the back wall, I discovered dozens of choices: whole beans, ground beans, caffeinated, and decaffeinated — all in 12-ounce packages. I was befuddled that a pound of coffee was now three-quarters of a pound. Only two brands had price tags: one $24.99, and the next $18.99. Wondering about the cost of a few others, I looked around for a store employee. Finally, a salesperson rushed past me.

“Excuse me, could you please help me with coffee?” I queried politely.

Spinning around, not missing a beat, she crisply replied, “I’m going on my break.” Okay then, I was beginning to understand. If one needs to ask the price of coffee, one can’t afford coffee, at least at Erewhon.

Erewhon serves a particular demographic. I’m not cool or rich enough to shop there regularly, but I don’t begrudge my fellow citizens who are. And that’s fine. There is plenty of room for everyone. And even though I don’t own a private-label $135 “Erewhon Everyday Bag” for my groceries, Erewhon is the corner store nearest me when I’m in L.A. If I ever need last-minute, forgotten items, I’ll feel grateful Erewhon is there for me and hold my head high, feeling no shame using my recycled bags from my truly Instagrammable Trader Joe’s. It’s in Marina del Rey, on the water, and has private boat parking. Beat that, Erewhon!

So, New Yorkers, whether you get your very own Erewhon, don’t fret. You can rest assured, we have enough to share out West.

Stephanie Blank’s writing has appeared in The Los Angeles Times and the collection “Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Positive, Live Happy.” She lives in East Quogue and Marina del Rey, Calif.


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