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Erinn Ragan, left, of Bel Air, chats with Amy Bauer, of Joppa, as they shop at the new Sprouts Farmers Market store in Bel Air. The store opened to the public Wednesday morning.
Erinn Ragan, left, of Bel Air, chats with Amy Bauer, of Joppa, as they shop at the new Sprouts Farmers Market store in Bel Air. The store opened to the public Wednesday morning. (David Anderson/The Aegis / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Shoppers who visited the new Sprouts Farmers Market grocery store in Bel Air for its grand opening Wednesday morning received applause from employees as they went in, as well as a coupon for 20 percent off their entire order if they were among the first 200 visitors.

Barry Hidey, a Bel Air resident and retired United Methodist Church pastor, was the very first shopper to enter when the store opened at 7 a.m. Hidey said he first learned about Sprouts, an Arizona-based grocery chain that specializes in fresh, organic and natural products, last summer when visiting his daughter in Denver. He said his daughter told him about a “really great store around the corner.”

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The Bel Air store, which is in the former hhgregg space in the Tollgate Marketplace shopping center at Route 24 and Marketplace Drive, is the third Sprouts grocery to open in the Baltimore area, according to company spokesperson Diego Romero.

Sprouts also has stores in Ellicott City and Towson — Hidey said he has visited the Towson Sprouts. He said he likes Sprouts’ “good prices” and noted he is looking forward to the Bel Air store’s organic produce, “and they do have supplements here that we’ll get for 20 percent off [Wednesday]."

“I do feel they probably have the best organic variety, in produce,” said Hidey, who noted he will continue to support other local organic food stores as well as the Bel Air Farmers’ Market, where residents can purchase goods directly from area farmers.

Bel Air Mayor Susan Burdette was on hand for the Wednesday morning opening, and she also visited the store Tuesday evening for a “friends and family” event that included a demonstration of cooking with healthy summer recipes.

Burdette said town and Harford County leaders presented certificates of appreciation to Sprouts officials Tuesday “for coming to Bel Air and choosing Harford County.”

She said about a third of the people attending the friends and family event raised their hands when asked if they had been to a Sprouts store before, such as those in Colorado.

“They could not wait for it to open here in Bel Air,” Burdette recalled.

Betty Willard, a resident of Bel Air, one of the first shoppers Wednesday, said she has visited a Sprouts market in Philadelphia.

“I got something of everything today, plus I had the 20-percent coupon,” she said.

Willard said she likes the bulk items such as candy and peanuts, which shoppers can get as little or as much of as they want.

“If you want the candy, you don’t have to get a ton of candy,” she said.

Erinn Ragan, of Bel Air, chatted with Joppa resident Amy Bauer in the produce section. Both had watermelons in their carts, plus Bauer had picked up a container of sushi for her husband along with several other items.

Ragan also held a cup of coffee sold in-store, saying “it’s good” when asked about the taste.

“It’s pretty, and it’s nice to have something that has wholesome options close by,” she said of the store.

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Bauer praised having Sprouts close to her family’s home as well as her job at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center.

“I really like the assortment of wholesome foods, not being hit in the face with a bunch of processed foods,” she said.

The store occupies about 30,000 square feet and has 140 employees, known as “Sproutees.”

Produce clerk Ryan Horsham, of Bel Air, shucked ears of corn before putting them out for customers.

The 22-year-old said he has been working for Sprouts for about two weeks and praised the company’s competitive pay and opportunities for advancement.

“It’s a pretty good company to try to move up in,” he said.

Romero, the Sprouts spokesperson, said “produce is what gives us our broad appeal,” although he also highlighted the store’s sustainably-sourced meats and seafood, the 2,400 Sprouts-brand products, hundreds of bulk items, deli where customers can build their own sandwiches, station where people can make their own almond and peanut butters, plus vitamins, supplements and body care products.

Romero noted the variety of products for customers doing different types of diets such as gluten-free, keto, paleo or vegan.

“We know that healthy living means something different to each individual, so we offer a lot of choices for everyone,” he said.

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