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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Q&A with Summer Auerbach

Q: How did Rainbow Blossom get its start?

A: We were the first natural products store in the region. A restaurant was attached to the store, almost like a Cracker Barrel setting. My parents got their start by catering for rock ‘n’ roll bands such as The Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt, Elvis Costello, Van Halen—basically all the big acts that came through town. Over the years, the store became the mainstay and the foodservice became less of an emphasis.

Q: How did you end up taking over the store in 2004?

A: I went to business school [at Bentley College in Massachusetts] because I wanted to be some type of entrepreneur. I was on a different career path when my dad was diagnosed with cancer.

At the time of the diagnosis, Wild Oats and Whole Foods opened [in 2003 and 2004, respectively] a mile from our flagship store. We thought we had loyal customers, but we hadn’t had any competition up until that point. And when a store loses its visionary and leader, you lose morale and sales. Everything changes. Sales were down 50 percent, and I wasn’t sure if my dad would survive. I was asked to come home and see what I could do.

Q: How did you turn things around for Rainbow Blossom’s three stores?

A: We started creating more events and press releases and putting on store seminars. I also helped found the Global Independent Business Alliance, which promotes a “Buy Local First” campaign. I did that to promote the difference it makes economically, socially and in terms of quality of life to support your local, independent stores. Those external things definitely helped internally.

Then I worked out special [payment] arrangements with all the buyers and suppliers for the store. Within a few years, we had worked off our debt. It was a slow and painful turnaround.

Q: In the past couple years, you have opened two new stores in Louisville and Indiana. Why the growth?

A: We realized that we had to identify ourselves as a neighborhood market. We located ourselves in the more peripheral areas of town where we can be the convenient [and healthy] option.

The fifth location [in Highlands] is a candidate for LEED certification. And we created a practitioners’ room and a community room, which was exciting to me. In the community room upstairs, we do seminars and weekly yoga and tai chi classes. We have a naturopath, an herbalist, a homeopath, a reiki practitioner and a massage therapist. They work directly with their clients; they’re not on our payroll. Their practice creates extra foot traffic in the door, and they’re making product recommendations. It has been a symbiotic relationship.

Q: How’s your father now?

A: He’s doing great. He had a stem cell transplant and survived. It took him two years to recover, but he’s been given a clean bill of health. He’s definitely my mentor. We work together on the larger functions with the store, but he has passed me the reins with anything operational.

I didn’t imagine that I’d be doing this at this stage of my life, but I’m enjoying it. It has given me the opportunity to get engaged in other issues that are important to me and express that through the store.

The Expo West retail store tour takes place on Thursday, March 11, from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sign up at

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