Known for its fresh smoothies and friendly service, a Malibu institution—The Vitamin Barn—is getting ready to close its doors for good. The store, specializing in health and nutrition, was first opened 34 years ago at the Fallbrook Mall by Gene Arnold and his parents. Its Colony Plaza Shopping Center location opened 27 years ago when the center was owned by Jerry Perenchio and rents were a lot more reasonable.
“Seven years into the lease, they raised the rent. Then, they sold it to the Kroenke Group,” Arnold said. Now, Arnold explained, “The rent just keeps going up and up.” Due to the high rent, Arnold said he actually wanted “to get out for the past 10 years, but I’ve kept it because it’s cool. Now, with all the circumstances—COVID, the [Woolsey] fire and [opening of] Whole Foods—I think it’s dangerous to keep a store here, financially.
"Financially, this town is not equipped to have small stores," Arnold continued. "Even if the rent was half, you’re not going to see people do too well. There has to be an honest conversation as to the value of locations. I don’t want to stick around for that conversation.”
Arnold remained open during the pandemic and had “unbelievable” business in March but when Whole Foods opened last summer, it put a dent in his numbers. Overall, without making a decent profit margin, Arnold explained he could now leave on his own terms.
“It’s a serious situation, having a store. These people out here [store owners] are dying," he said.
The most unpleasant part of closing the store has been saying goodbye to his many regular customers, Arnold added.
The Vitamin Barn will remain open until inventory sells out.
“It’s not going to be long,” Arnold said.
The 59-year-old businessman has had offers to take over the store, but he says others can open something when he’s gone. Arnold plans to focus on his other business California Natural immunity shots and take some time off after working seven days a week for years.
“Personally, I want to thank everybody from the bottom of my heart for the kindness and the respect everybody always had when they came into the store and how great the relationships were," he said. "I wouldn’t have stayed this long in any other place if it wasn’t Malibu. It was a sacrifice to stay. The people made it worthwhile. The people of the city of Malibu made a very tough situation tolerable because they’re really wonderful.”
Editor's note: This story was updated to include more information from the interview with Gene Arnold.