Mortar & Pesto in Red Deer, AB., is not your traditional pharmacy. That’s because owner Jennifer Fookes is not your typical pharmacist.
This is a story about my good friend Rhonda Taylor. Last year, she bought The Hazeltons Health Food Store (formerly Country Herbs) – along with her sister Brenda Parkes – in the very remote northern half of B.C. (directly east of the Alaska panhandle!)
Rhonda and her partner Dave Marek, a retired wildland forest fire fighter who is now a certified ocean fishing guide, came upon the store while looking for a home in the Hazelton region. Although it wasn’t for sale, owner and founder Lorna McLeod found in Rhonda a kindred spirit, the kind of person she thought would take care of her “baby,” the store she had founded and nurtured for more than three decades.
I first met Rhonda in early 1999 at her store, Vital Health in Creston, B.C. Within a year or two of that, she sold the store. To get a phone call from her last year saying she was coming back as a store owner made me happy, because to me, Rhonda is the epitome of a natural retailer: passionate, knowledgeable and great with people. Plus, she has that retailer spirit and soul. It’s been a year since she bought the store, so I thought you might enjoy a little tale about a woman who has settled in a wilderness paradise with her true love and her family. Here’s a Q & A with my friend about her latest adventure.
CNHR: What is the population of Hazelton and surrounding area?
Rhonda: We have about 1,200 folks. First Nations accounts for roughly 80 per cent of the population in this area. However, we do draw a small amount of customers from Terrace (11,000) and Smithers (5,000), for those that enjoy a beautiful hour to 90 minute drive.
CNHR: What were the main reasons you decided to do this?
Rhonda: I moved to the area, because of a new relationship. We were looking for a home to buy and I was looking for something I loved to do. I am also crazy.
CNHR: How long has this store been in existence?
Rhonda: The Hazeltons Health Food Store has been around for 34 Years. The person I bought the store from – Lorna McLeod – is an extraordinary woman. October of 2018 would mark her 33rd year of business. Back in 1985, Lorna and her husband Don set up business in their mobile home, with her cash register on her kitchen counter. Eventually, they purchased an addition for the side of their trailer, but soon they outgrew that, too. Then the inspiration of building an independent building on their property turned into a reality. Today, decades later, the store is a gem to the Hazeltons.
CNHR: You mentioned the happiest you’ve ever been was in Creston. What were the things that made you happiest?
Rhonda: It was the first time I realized what a control freak I am. Being self-employed means being autonomous. It means I get to take the blame or credit for whatever is happening.
I absolutely LOVE/LOVED the customers. There is something profound and beyond rewarding to have the privilege of helping someone help themselves. To share their tears and triumphs. There is a special trust that you earn. Seriously, how often do you get to just outright ask someone if their bowels are moving properly? You live through people's pregnancies, losses, divorces, engagements, graduations… all of life's experiences that make us human. If I was having a “feel sorry for me day,” there is always that customer that walks in with more courage and strength than I could ever muster in a life time – just to get out of bed. Some folks are battling just to stay alive.
CNHR: You’ve said before that you love “all the moving parts” being a store owner brings. Maybe that’s part of what makes you happy?
Rhonda: You are stretched to the limits on a daily basis, but it makes for great character building. It is the daily Rubik's cube. You simply cannot be linear. Boredom is hard to come by. I would agree, if something can hold my interest, it definitely makes me happy!
CNHR: Who else is involved in the store with you and what is everyone’s job/responsibilities?
Rhonda: My partner Dave Marek has been a major support. I have hired part-time help and Lorna comes in on Sunday and Wednesday afternoons.
My mom Lynn Fleury moved here in late November, 2018. Over Christmas 2018, I convinced my sister Brenda Parkes to invest in the store. She moved out in the spring. We haven't lived in the same province for over 20 years, so it is awesome working together. We both bring different strengths to the table. We all serve the customers, price and stock items. Brenda’s son Sean Parkes has been invaluable for store appearance. He makes sure the store is spotless. He fills the bulk bins, packages bulk foods, lifts everything over 100 pounds. He keeps the grounds clean and tidy....cutting grass, sweeping, etc.
The biggest job that we all do is engage the customers. We have amazing visits and conversations. This area is extremely colourful. It supports a full spectrum of professions and passions. The area is magic. People help and work together, it isn't dog-eat-dog. It is a true community!
CNHR: What are some of the things you’ve done since taking over?
Rhonda: I have done a lot of renovations: added windows, painted, and built a deck for the customers to sit in our park area and enjoy the view. I have added a lot of different products. As I have lived in major cities for the majority of my life, I like to bring "the big city" to me and fit it into this peaceful country lifestyle.
CNHR: What are the major challenges you’ve faced and how have you overcomed them?
Rhonda: My greatest challenge has simply been to be myself. It was important for me to approach the business in a way that was comfortable for me, but also reflective of me.
Lorna was an icon. She had some pretty massive shoes to fill. She offered many products that were reflective of her lifestyle. I too have my beliefs and had to be respectful to others, but also myself. This meant that I did bring in things like organic and/or free-range meats and coffee. The biggest change we have made is to bring in organic produce. It was a selfish move on my part, but the area has embraced the convenience, especially during the winter months. Out here in the woods, folks are not used to a lot of choices. The people here are very honouring. The most common comment we get is: “Thank you for buying the store and being here!” Most folks had the assumption that Lorna would just close up shop and the store would no longer be here. During our casual conversation when I first walked into her store, I expressed how much I missed my customers. She said she just knew that I would take care of the people that she had taken such good care of for decades.
CNHR: Any advice for retailers who are thinking of buying an existing health food store?
Rhonda: When you want something and believe in something, nothing can stop you! I happened to have an awesome friend that helped me with a loan, along with my amazing love interest, who believed in and supported me as well. You have to be a bit crazy and creative in your thinking. You cannot leave a lot of room for limitations.
I don't think I would have felt as confident to start a store on a whim, but this store was well established and the whole situation just felt right. There were too many magical moments to deny that this was the right decision for us.
Story: Bruce W. Cole Photos: Dylan Marek
The Sweet Potato seems to have hit on a winning formula. The Toronto store is built around a lot of words that begin with “f,” including, friendly, fun, farm fresh, family, full-service and focus on local. Unite these things with organic, great pricing, an astute leadership group and a committed, passionate staff, it is no surprise The Sweet Potato has grown from a part-time weekend venture into a 10,000 sq. ft. store, a high-powered neighbourhood hub for all things good and healthy.
There is something you need to know about Janine Favreau: after 34 years as the owner and operator of Nutter’s Everyday Naturals in Prince Albert, SK, she is still as energized, focused, driven and dedicated to her business as she was when she opened the store in a blinding October blizzard all those years ago.
When the Pakosz family was planning a new building to move their health food store to, they all had the same word at the top of their wish list: wow.
After years of continually outgrowing the space at a strip mall, the owners of Healthyway Natural Foods in Campbell River. B.C. – Donna and Will, and Will’s parents Kay and Bill – made up their minds to create something big enough for now and for the future, and they wanted it to be special. “We aimed to create a ‘wow’ factor when customers walked through the door,” says Will. “We wanted our merchandising and store layout to have an intelligent plan.”
Come the warmer weather – late spring until Thanksgiving – Huntsville, Ontario is a pretty happening place. Come the warmer weather – late spring until Thanksgiving – Huntsville, Ontario is a pretty happening place.
Located slightly more than 200 kilometres north of Toronto, it is situated in the municipality of Muskoka, a district that boasts over 1,600 lakes. The district has a legitimate claim as Canada’s most popular summer vacation haven, when the population more than doubles.
Aliments Naturels Pleine Lune sits in a very prominent location in the city of Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec. Perched confidently on the southeast corner of two busy roads, it presents a very impressive visual to passersby and customers alike.
Pleine Lune (“Full Moon” in English) may not have always had such a high profile physical location, but it has always held an important position in the hearts and minds of its customers since it founding. Its longevity is proof of that. In 2018, Pleine Lune celebrates a major milestone: 40 years of serving the people of this city of 100,000, located roughly 40 kilometres to the south of Montreal’s south shore.
Patty Nowlin and Pat Guyn – the husband and wife owners of Sunnyside Natural Market in Calgary – were in California in 2012. They were there at the same time state residents were asked to vote either for or against mandatory labelling of products that contained GMO ingredients.
Durham Natural Foods has seen two distinctly different phases in its 39-year history. It has been a big operation. And it has been a small operation.
Store owner Gilles Roy and his brother, store manager Ray Roy, agree: they prefer the smaller – and current – size of the business.
Jake Gaudaur knows the road workers fairly well: they seem to have been tearing up the road in front of his café for months. “Any luck?” he asks one of them. The worker replies, “Not yet. We’re going to try over there.” “The sidewalk?” asks Jake. “No…over there,” says the worker, pointing to a spot in the road that is still untouched.
Calgary’s Community Natural Foods (CNF) received a nice early birthday surprise at CHFA West in April. On the verge of marking its 40th anniversary, Community took home the Brock Elliott Memorial Award for Excellence in Retailing at the CHFA awards ceremony.
Muskoka Natural Foods Market has new owners and a new expanded home in a busy downtown location.
How do you replace a legend? How about by creating something legendary in its own right?
This is what happened when two couples bought a well-known health food store from its original owner and then moved it into a high-profile space and created an amazing thing of beauty.
If you happen to be in Saskatoon and are hoping to see Lovie Wesolowski, there are two places you are likely to find her. The most obvious spot is her store of 40 years, Nature’s Health Centre. It’s where she has helped countless people regain and maintain good health. It is also where she has helped launch the careers of many elite athletes.
Suzie and John Wensley of the Good Health Mart in Collingwood, ON celebrated the 10th anniversary as owners of the store with what they described as “the best customer appreciation day ever.”
News, Views and Happenings in the world of Canadian Natural Health.
Reach 10,000+ natural health store professionals via CNHR Magazine. CNHR is delivered by Canada Post six times per year to virtually every health food store across Canada. Retailers are your true sales force. So, get your product into more stores and get them selling for you.
Remember, your first sale is to the retailers. CNHR can get your message in front of them. Connect with the retailers who sell and recommend your product.
Display ads, Product Profiles, Trade Talk news in CNHR Magazine along with Facebook, CNHR web page,
podcasts, inserts, videos posted to our website, sending product samples to stores…we have the access to Canada’s natural health retailers. Put our many resources to work for your company and products today.
We are keeping the industry informed and updated through the magazine, the CNHR Website, our Facebook Page, the CNHR Podcast and our industry e-blasts. Ask me about all we can do to connect you to the industry and give you blanket coverage across Canada. Let me help put all of CNHR’s resources to work for you!