Wild Oats Market

Jason McGathey
20 min readAug 15, 2023
Likeness of Charlie on a watermelon at Wild Oats Market
likeness of Charlie that Travis drew on a watermelon

There are in a way so many hysterical tales about this wacky establishment that I’m too paralyzed to even find the starting point right now. To summarize the basic dynamic, though, the fate of this particular store and the company as a whole — which at its peak ran to roughly 150 franchises — demonstrates what happens when you take a hippie concept and attempt, with mostly unsuccessful results, to convert it into your standard monolithic grocery corporation, a la Kroger or Meijer or, yes, even Whole Foods.

When I started here in 2001, we were doing $300,000 a week in not that big of a store, in a neighborhood that wasn’t even really geared toward any kind of major retail enterprise. The mall next door was still a ghost town of a dump, Howard’s barber shop was still chopping away, diagonally across the street, and much of the current business landscape further west on Lane didn’t yet exist. Our own shoddy, patched over building seemed to be sinking an inch or so per year on the back end, a state that led many to dub it “California.”

By the time I left six years later, we were doing about half the business, despite the mall next door being completely revamped and reinvigorated with actual paying customers. They’d briefly attempted jamming our aisles with a bunch of conventional products alongside the natural, organic, and local ones, a disaster from which the company and definitely our location never really recovered. The CEO was an alleged “turnaround” guru who golden parachuted out of this mess before we completely went down in flames. I was still under employ here when the announcement was made that Whole Foods had bought us out, throwing what was still their closest competitor a lifesaver in many respects. But they hadn’t gotten around to changing the names over or implementing their entire structure yet before I left.

For just about the duration of my days here, we’ve got these two corporate tools brought over from the conventional world, Bob and Tom, who never gelled with the workforce whatsoever. Seemingly on a daily basis you’d have these Dilbert-level bizarre exchanges with one or both of the guys which would leave you even more confused than before. And while we had our share of great customers, approximately 1% I would say were so horrible it was like nothing you’d ever experienced before, they’d have you on the brink of walking out…