Natural Foods Merchandiser

Local is as local does

Common Crow Natural Market
6 Elm St.
Gloucester, MA 01930

Store size: 2,000 square feet
Revenue: $2 million; 8 percent to 10 percent projected growth in 2009
Employees: eight full time; 10 part time
Top four sales categories: 100 percent–organic produce, herbs and herbal products, organic and local meats and dairy, organic body care

Herbalist Pat Towler and naturalist Kate Noonan combined their interests in health and wellness with backgrounds in business and management to open Common Crow in 2000. Their mission: to connect their customers with the "uncommon wisdom" in traditional and natural health care. "While we sell many nutritional products and serve a wide range of needs and special interests, our consistent message is one of self-care and focus on the basics," Towler says. "We are honored by the many referrals of local physicians and allied health professionals to ‘go to the Crow' for natural and self-care products and sensible advice."

Common Crow is an avid supporter of the 4-year- old Cape Ann Farmers' Market—Noonan sits on the board. And the store has become a hot spot for local growers and producers. "This may be the beginning of a small-producer renaissance," Towler says. "Our feedback from customers tells us they are increasingly aware of where their food comes from and are more sensitive to the quality and values compromises made by larger retailers in order to keep their wide appeal."

Debra's Natural Gourmet
98 Commonwealth Ave.
Concord, MA 01742

Store size: 3,300 square feet
Revenue: $4 million
Employees: 20 full time; 15 part time
Top four sales categories: supplements, grocery, organic produce, deli

Debra Stark was raised on natural products by a mother who ground her own grain, insisted on organic produce and referred to white sugar as "poison." Since 1989, Debra's Natural Gourmet has been the busy hub from which Stark continues to pass along those natural values.

In addition to community events, such as a potluck cosponsored with Slow Food Boston and a monthly discussion group on health topics, Stark and her staff produce a popular newsletter. Stark's son Adam is a regular contributor.

"Our store newsletter is the best I've seen," Stark says. "And Adam's articles, written in his own inimitable style, are read nationwide. We know because we get emails." In fact, one of Adam Stark's columns ruffled the feathers of a national manufacturer, Sigg water bottles, when he wrote that the company used bisphenol-A- containing liners in its products.

Cambridge Naturals
23 White St.
Cambridge, MA 02140

Store size: 3,500 square feet
Revenue: $2.2 million
Employees: seven full time; seven part time
Top four sales categories: supplements, body care, grocery, lifestyle (yoga, meditation, shoes)

Michael Kanter and Elizabeth Stagl have been running Cambridge Naturals since 1974. The current store in Porter Square is the incarnation of two natural foods stores Kanter started in 1971. He attributes the store's staying power, in spite of what he dubs "overwhelming competition," to its enthusiastic staff, a dedication to customer service, a commitment to the best products and his involvement in the local business community.

"We are founding members of Cambridge Local First, an amazing group of locally owned and independent businesses," he says.

Kanter says joining forces with like-minded businesses and residents and contributing time and money to local nonprofits are at the heart of Cambridge Naturals' success. After 35 years of operation, he foresees the local trend becoming more important than ever.

"Legitimate local will emerge stronger, and customers will be seeking community through their support of such businesses," he says. "And natural healing will get more attention in these extra-challenging economic times."

–Cara Hopkins

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