Walk into The Natural Choice in Southold, N.Y., on a Saturday morning and odds are it'll be surprisingly quiet at a typically busy time for food stores. But while customers might not be shopping for groceries, they're filling the adjacent yoga studio to capacity where the store's owner, Claire Jannuzzi, teaches a vinyasa-style class.
On a very quiet Sunday morning, London-born Jannuzzi sits at the juice bar at her store and points to the door that separates the small retail space from her yoga studio, Southold Yoga. "That door is so symbolic," she says. "The store demands a great deal of attention in so many ways—ordering, inventory, staff, bills and constant cash-flow issues. The yoga studio is blissfully void of all those concerns. In the yoga studio, all I have to do is share."
Jannuzzi faces the same challenges many natural foods retailers are up against now, such as growing competition from conventional supermarkets. "I often wonder if they send people in here to see what exists," she says. "Since they're selling a lot of natural stuff now, it's pushed me to sell high-quality products from smaller companies." But there's no resentment in Jannuzzi's tone when she talks about this newfound competition from mainstream markets. In fact, she says it's a good thing. "The point is people can improve their quality of life with these foods, and if they can do that in the IGA and King Kullen [conventional supermarket chains], all the better," she says.
Jannuzzi has other obstacles unique to the neighborhood in which she operates. Southold is a rural Long Island town 90 miles east of New York that's brimming with organic farms, and many in the community opt to go to the local farmers for fresh produce. "They want the farm experience," she says. As a result, she carries very little produce.
But despite these challenges, Jannuzzi expresses enthusiasm for the industry.
"There's a degree of responsibility I feel—a degree of service to the community that the store provides," she says. "We offer products that are not available anywhere else locally and I have come to know how important this is to some people, which is in large part why I continue to offer them. The store is an extension of my lifestyle. The benefit to me is to be immersed in this lifestyle that I so completely believe in, to share it with others and to receive the blessings in more subtle ways than money in the bank."
In 2002, Copersino was diagnosed with cancer. Shortly after conceiving and building the store and studio with Jannuzzi, he passed away.
Jannuzzi kept the store and yoga studio open despite the tragedy. A few years later, she met David Jannuzzi through a mutual friend. They married and had a son, Jude, who's now 19 months old.
"I call Jude my perspective," Jannuzzi says, gazing up at a picture of him above the juice bar. "From a business perspective, this [store] is not the most important thing in my world. My son is. This store adds to my quality of life through a sense of family—a sense of community it fosters."
And that sense of community is something Jannuzzi hopes will grow even more. "It's all about supporting each other on a local level, and a small business is an obvious example of that," she says. "By choosing to buy locally, you're making an investment in your community. If there's something special in your community that you want to preserve, you have to make an investment in it."
Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXVIII/number 10/p. 50