Hundreds of local shoppers lined up along La Cañada’s Foothill Boulevard last Thursday morning to celebrate the opening of a new Gelson’s Market and enjoy several free samples and treats celebrating the grocery chain’s 18th location.
The turnout — an estimated 350 to 500 people flooded Plaza de La Cañada in the first hour alone — was higher than anticipated, as shoppers waited in segmented groups to enter, like a crowd lining up for a roller coaster.
“We thought we would may have 100 or 150 people here this morning,” said marketing director Yvonne Manganaro. “The response was better than we expected.”
After the opening, City Council member Don Voss and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Davitt walked through crowded but pristine aisles, sipping Peet’s coffees and eyeing sample counters and product displays. Students from Hog’s Hollow Preschool visited the store for a field trip, each wearing a balloon on his or her wrist.
Pat Anderson, president and chief executive of La Cañada Flintridge Chamber of Commerce, said she was pleased by the showing.
“The community has been anticipating the opening of this store for many weeks, and the excitement has been building,” Anderson said. “So I tell them, ‘Shop till you drop!’”
One of the very first customers to check out was La Cañada resident Lillian Alden, who came with best friend Beth Torres to have a peek at the store and pick up a chicken salad for lunch. A die-hard Gelson’s fan, she shopped at the Valley Village location for years when she lived nearby.
“When I moved to La Cañada, I would commute all the way to Riverside Drive,” said Alden, adding that the clean, well-stocked aisles and customer service were a draw. “Once you get used to that and you go in other markets, it’s just not the same.”
Torres, who referred to herself as “a Vons child,” hated to see the old store close in late October.
“I was very sad. I’d had my Vons card forever,” Torres said. “I’m not a Gelson’s person. But I’m impressed with this. I may be a convert.”
For 13 years, Gelson’s served the Foothills community with its store in Pasadena’s Paseo Colorado. That location closed in June due to complications including poor visibility, parking issues and a decline in mall traffic.
One Pasadena faithful was Jason Cook, who begrudgingly switched to Whole Foods after that closure. He came to La Cañada to look around, but found himself at the end of a long line one hour into the event.
“I came for the free samples and to be the first in line or, in this case, the 100th in line,” Cook joked.
For him, the day’s visit would surely be the first of many more to come.
“It’s good to be back,” he said.
Follow Sara Cardine on Twitter: @SaraCardine.