After being vacant for more than a decade, the historic I. Magnin building in Pasadena has a new tenant: Erewhon. The opening of the store marks the grocer’s 10th location and demonstrates Erewhon’s growing interest in revitalizing old buildings.
“It’s definitely a cool thing to be able to revive a building and open up a flagship store,” said Tony Antoci, chief executive of Erewhon.
The certified organic retailer, which is famous for carrying unique products, including $26 hyper-oxygenated waters and $110 bottles of raw Manuka honey, is no stranger to adaptive reuse.
“That’s our bread and butter,” Yuval Chiprut, chief development officer at Erewhon, said. “Tony and I geek out on real estate and we love old buildings. And we like to repurpose things that people don’t really know what to do with.”
Erewhon and Long Beach-based architecture firm and longtime design collaborator RDC work together to reimagine spaces to fit the demands of the fast-growing grocery chain.
“Kind of a unique thing about Erewhon is they will go into a space that no other grocery retailer would even think about going into,” Terry Todd, associate principal at RDC who managed the project and oversaw the design of the new Erewhon, said. “They’re a lot more flexible and willing to take on (unconventional grocery) space.”
RDC has worked on the design of the six most reccent Erewhon stores to open, including Erewhon Beverly Hills, which was formerly a Williams Sonoma, and Santa Monica Erewhon, which was a bookstore and then a camera store before the grocery chain acquired it.
In the case of the new Pasadena store, the building located at 475 South Lake Ave. has quite a complicated history.
It was built in 1949 to accommodate a new branch of the San Francisco-based luxury department store, I. Magnin and Co. The chain reached its peak popularity in 1967, when it had 32 stores throughout the country. However, in November 1994, bankruptcy forced the closure of all stores nationwide, shutting operations of the once-beloved retailer’s Pasadena location.
The two-story, 45,000 square-foot building went through numerous changes in ownership, and at one point was leased to Borders Books, a popular bookstore chain of the time. Borders, too, faced bankruptcy, needing to liquidate all remaining stores by the end of September 2011. With Borders unable to pay rent, the owner was forced to sell in foreclosure and the store had been vacant since 2012.
In 2021, 475 South Lake Ave LLC, an investor consortium created by Erewhon’s Chiprut, which Antoci’s family trust owns a portion of, purchased the building for an undisclosed sum. Erewhon itself signed a 25-year lease on the ground floor portion of the property.
“There’s accounting benefits,” Chris Maling, a principal at Avison Young specializing in the retail sector for investment sales, said on assessing why the owners of Erewhon would purchase the building through means of a separate entity then have the differently owned Erewhon lease that property. Maling represented the seller and procured the buyer during a 2006 transfer sale of the South Lake Avenue building.
Shortly after acquisition, Antoci and Chiprut worked with the city of Pasadena to give the building historic landmark designation – a title that serves as a layer of protection for the foreseeable future, something the two are personally proud of.
“We’re protecting the integrity of the building,” Chiprut said. “Instead of installing new windows, we’ve refurbished all of the existing windows … we didn’t add any awnings, we didn’t change the look of the building … we basically did nothing to the building but kept it in its original stature.”
Tenant improvements cost more than $11 million for the Pasadena store, but according to RDC those improvements came in the form of modernizing the building’s infrastructure while keeping its historic architecture intact.
“We wanted to bring it back to its originality,” Todd said, who noted RDC was able to find some historic images of the building, which were heavily referenced during renovations.
“The challenge with an existing structure is that oftentimes you are restricted both in layout and functionality,” Chiprut said. “But we relish in the challenge.”
Erewhon and RDC divided the property into three spaces and welcomed two upstairs tenants, transforming the building into a mixed-use retail destination.
“That’s a big trend, carving up these (previously single-tenant big boxes) into multi-tenants,” Todd said.
Brella, an app-enabled child care center, and Tia, an integrated women’s health care clinic, signed leases to the property in the last quarter of 2021.
And, after some refurbishments of their own, both service providers opened directly above Erewhon in July, resulting in a one-stop-shop wellness center.
“We know that the primary shopper for groceries is female,” Chiprut said. “And upstairs is really dedicated to mothers and families … we just thought it was incredible synergy.”
While Erewhon did not disclose an exact price comparison, it’s typically more expensive to rehab an old building as opposed to moving into a newer one. But those costs could be somewhat offset by taking on outside tenants, which allows for the distribution of operating costs.
Antoci and his wife, Josephine Antoci, purchased Erewhon from the DeSilva family for an undisclosed amount in 2011 when it was a standalone location near The Grove.
In just over a decade, Erewhon has grown to 10 stores – including locations in Venice, Santa Monica, Silver Lake, Studio City, Calabasas, Beverly Hills, Pacific Palisades, Century City and now Pasadena – along with the one the Antocis originally acquired.
Erewhon averages an annual revenue of over $1,800 per square foot. In the case of the 45,000-square-foot Pasadena store, that means $81 million a year.
In comparison, the average grocery store in the U.S. only makes $14 million in yearly revenue, one fifth as much as Erewhon, according to a March study on the U.S. food retail industry published by Zippia.
And there’s a lot on the horizon for the trendy chain.
Next year, Erewhon will move its headquarters to a larger, 120,000-square-foot kitchen and warehouse distribution facility downtown, and while the Pasadena store is the first building Erewhon ownership has purchased – and Brella and Tia are technically Erewhon’s first tenants – Antoci said of owning other property, “it is definitely something we’re pushing forward on.”
For now, all of Erewhon’s stores are within Los Angeles County. However, Antoci noted the company has plans to expand farther afield, starting with areas like Newport Beach and Santa Barbara, and hopes to one day operate in markets outside of California.