Natural Foods Merchandiser

The Tide Keeps Turning, But Rising Tide Stays Afloat

Long Island, N.Y., is an area known more for big hair than bulgur, but there are a few venues at which to find both. One such place is Rising Tide Natural Market, a fixture since 1983 in Glen Cove, a down-to-earth town on the island's North Shore. A wave of competition during the late '90s presented business challenges, but the store has managed to survive by recommitting to customers and community.

Owner Jerry Farrell and his then-partner first opened up shop in nearby Locust Valley in 1976 so he and his friends would have a source for all the macrobiotic foods that weren't then available anywhere else on the island. "In those days, we were all into macrobiotics and needed a place to shop," Farrell says.

After moving to the present, larger location in 1983, Rising Tide's business grew steadily until the big guns moved in: a local supermarket chain introduced an all-organic produce department, and a Fresh Fields, now Whole Foods Market, opened up in a neighboring town.

"Our sales plummeted," says Farrell. "Between those two competitors, we took a 35 percent hit in sales."

But by refocusing on what it could do that other retail outlets couldn't, Rising Tide managed to remain essential to its customers and solvent because of their continued loyalty. "Before the competition moved in, we had been a regional store. After Fresh Fields opened, we became a community store and turned our focus to meeting the needs of those in the immediate area," Farrell says.

One of Rising Tide's biggest draws for its busy customers, many of whom are commuters to New York City interested in healthful foods but pressed for preparation time, is the store's extensive deli section. The array can include anywhere between 40 and 50 fresh selections each day, from Tempeh Quesadillas to Spinach Hijiki Salad. Explains Farrell, "We provide what supermarkets can't: a take-out section of predominantly organic prepared foods."

Another area of huge growth for the store is supplements and personal care, a department that Farrell has seen change dramatically through the years. "After 1994, the store mix turned upside down," Farrell says. "Supplements and personal care used to make up 15 percent of sales and now, at 40 percent, [it] is the largest category in sales." Top-of-the line cosmetics, such as Dr. Hauschka and Borlind, are in great demand, he says, as is the full monty of nutritional supplements.

The store management works hard to keep sales up in this category, and recently hired a physician to be available for nutritional counseling. "People trust us to sort out for them all the new information and research that comes in," Farrell says. Now a longtime staff is dedicated to amassing knowledge on the ever-changing world of supplements. "He reads, reads, reads all the research. And if someone comes in asking something for which he doesn't have an answer, he'll do exhaustive research until he has all the answers."

If a requested product is not on the store shelf, then Rising Tide employees put in a special order. It's yet another service the store provides that competitors can't, and one that earns customers' affection. "As a smaller, community-centered store, we are eager to provide those kinds of special services to our customers," says Farrell. Whatever the demand, the store tries to meet it. "As an independent, I can buy whatever, whenever," he says.

Rising Tide prides itself on its all-organic produce section, which is another area of sales growth. "We feel we can offer people more reliable produce than anywhere else in the area and offer consistent quality. Between this year and last, sales in organic produce have increased more than in any other of our departments," Farrell says.

"Whenever there's an option, we go to selling all-organic," he says, and that goes for his self-serve organic coffee, juice bar selections and for chickens and turkeys sold at holidays (though the store otherwise doesn't sell meat). And he backs up his organic selection with preprinted information and marketing. "We work hard to push organics whenever we can, however we can, with signage and special promotions."

Farrell recently removed bulk bins to allow more space for packaged grocery items and to respond to customer concerns about safety and cleanliness. Other store changes reflect both the particulars of life and of the times. Rising Tide has always been a place that dispenses information and acts as a clearinghouse for community events, but this is less so recently. "When I was younger, I had a partner and we shared the responsibilities, but things change. Now I am older, I have children, I coach soccer," Farrell says.

The events of last September have also put a damper on extracurricular activities, such as cooking classes and talks. "There's less of an interest in that, so for now we've curtailed those events," he says.

Long Island is not known for its progressive attitude toward health and wellness. But with what, according to some statistics, is one of the highest breast cancer rates in the country, even the medical community is beginning to embrace the importance of nutrition in maintaining optimal health. Rising Tide plays a role there as well, providing both goods and information that are hard to find elsewhere. "More physicians are referring patients to us for supplements," Farrell says. "The medical community is coming around."

Through all the vicissitudes, Rising Tide remains a comforting presence, a touchstone for the neighborhood. "It's still a gathering place for the community. We have people working here—four or five 18 year olds—whose parents, longtime customers, used to bring them in as babies," Farrell says.

The atmosphere is warm, comforting and constant. The space is the same as it was when originally designed in 1983, with lots of wood and quarry-tile floors, though the shelving has been painted dark green for a "fresher look." Filled with music and the fragrant smells of home-cooked deli selections, Rising Tide is a homey spot to shop and run into friends. "We set a really nice atmosphere," Farrell says.

The community and the world have come to embrace the kind of store that Rising Tide is, which 26 years ago, when it first opened, was decidedly out of the mainstream. Of his customers and his friends, Farrell says, "We have come of age. Most of us are in our 40s and 50s. We grew up with this kind of place, this kind of food, these kinds of products. And now, we're not so 'out there' anymore."

Rising Tide Natural Market
42 Forest Ave.
Glen Cove, NY 11542
Owner: Jerry Farrell
Established: 1976; moved to current location in 1983
Retail space: 3,000 square feet
Employees: 22
Best-sellers: Supplements
Annual Sales: $2.2 million
Sales Breakdown Supplements/HABA: 40 percent
Grocery: 30 percent
Deli: 20 percent
Produce: 10 percent

Barbara Hey is a freelance writer and editor.

Natural Foods Merchandiser volume XXIII/number 6/p. 82

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