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I was around 15 years old when I finally had it with twinkies and ring dings (popular snack cakes). I had allergies and a weak, thin body. I wanted to fix those things. I was interested in learning more about health and strength. So, I read books, watched the fitness experts of the day, like Jack LaLanne on TV, and saw the results people had when they focused on their health and body. I visited “health food” shops, but most were just vitamin stores. However, the guys running one local store were into vitamins but also weightlifting. That got my attention so I started asking a lot of questions and created a pretty cool program of diet, vitamins and weightlifting.
I started working out in my garage and the results were so noticeable, my friends wanted in! The program worked for them too; we were eating healthier; talking together and continuously improving. When we grew to a group of 6, my garage became too small and we moved to the local YMCA. This was before “workouts” were popular and the YMCA was a place for sports such as racquetball or squash. The weight room was usually rather empty other than the few body builders. So it was unusual to see a group of young boys regularly working out. Our numbers grew and we made quite a name for ourselves at school!
“I think once you make choices in life, of what it is you want to do, however large or small, your efforts begin to create the right environment. Then you are ready when the opportunities come.”
I was a baby boomer and the late '60's, early '70s was that time where folks were looking at alternatives in music, Eastern religions, social issues etc. It was just kind of in the air for young people like us. Besides my focus on health, I was a musician, painting, and did a little bit of acting. So, being an artist, I was kind of empathetic and sensitive to all of that alternative type of lifestyle. In music, “fusion” was the new thing; combining jazz, rock and soul. Everything was becoming something new! It was a great energy.
Looking back, I can see how much I liked to process things. I would observe myself and others and see what's working and what's not. So with the workout program, music, art, and acting I would break it all down, distill them into important points. Then focus and prioritize actions and take them step by step.
In college, this spirit of innovative, creative energy continued. I got a degree at the Hartford Art School and took courses at the Hartt Conservatory of Music. I showed my art in galleries, was playing music with great musicians and had a blast in innovative musicals! I was also studying world religions and began to do yoga and meditate. As much as I loved art and music, still, the most satisfying endeavors were health, fitness, yoga and meditation.
“We all want to feel safe, secure, and significant. The choices we make, give us control to some extent over having these things in our lives, rather than it being a gamble whether they come or not.”
Toward the end of my college days, I was shopping in a small food store that had been a mismanaged food co-op. It was a bit overwhelming for this new owner at the time, so he offered me the opportunity to help him. All of the work I had done on wellness had me ready for the moment! After the store closed my first day working there, I asked if I could stay and clean up a bit. I had been thinking throughout that first day, “this isn’t displayed very well,” and “why is everything in the back room instead of out on the floor where people can see it?” So I stayed ‘till 2 in the morning and rearranged everything! I was so caught up in that creative energy, I didn’t think to ask if it was OK! Driving home it hit me that I might not have a job when I went back the next day!
Well, all worked out so well, that he offered for me to be his partner, which I gladly accepted!
From there we built furniture for nuts, dried fruits, grains and beans to sell them by the pound instead of in small little bags, which was innovative for the day. We expanded the small store to become what I believe to be one of the first natural food supermarkets. I scoured the suppliers and distributors of food for anything, from anywhere around the world, that fit our acceptable range of food and ingredients.
Our byline was, "We read the labels for you."
As long as it didn't have refined sugar, anything artificial, preservatives, or chemicals, we would take it into the store. We had packaged and fresh, food and produce, gourmet cheeses, body care products, wellness books and a great lunch deli! It was really the first store that put specialty, gourmet, and natural altogether. We had the mayor of Hartford and the governor of Connecticut shopping there, and it was always written about in the local papers.
At that time “organic” food began to be defined by regional efforts mostly in California. There was a bit of organic produce, but not much else. So we focused on what we determined to be “natural” for all products in the store. It was not until 1990, under the U.S. Farm Bill, The Organic Foods Production Act (OFPA) established the “certified organic” claim with federal legislation.
“We were the oasis for health conscious people.“
We wanted to do the best for our customers and determined to actually compete with conventional supermarket pricing. So we created a collaborative distribution company along with other health and natural food stores outside our area. We bought trailer loads of food direct from California and the west and called the company “Brontosaurus”; moving the food market away from the prehistoric era! Ha! What a memory!
(To be continued)