COLUMBIA — Natural Grocers opened its doors Tuesday, the first location in Missouri for the national chain.
The family-owned natural and organic grocery store, based in Colorado, carries more than 11,000 natural and organic products. It took over the former Ethan Allen showroom at 400 N. Stadium Blvd.
“Columbia is a great college town that is currently underserved in regards to natural food and organic groceries,” Kemper Isely, co-president of the chain, said.
In the past, Columbia's organic needs have been met by larger grocery stores and the locally owned Clovers Natural Market. The market opened in 1965 and is celebrating its 46th anniversary this weekend. It offers organic produce, supplements and vitamins, gluten- and sugar-free products and gourmet and specialty products.
Clovers has locations on Chapel Plaza Court off Forum Boulevard and East Broadway and is planning to expand the Broadway store.
"I think our customers are loyal and smart," said Patty Clover, co-owner of Clovers. "They (Natural Grocers) will take some market from all of us."
Natural Grocers bought and renovated the 13,540 square-foot vacant building that sits in a prominent location on Stadium Boulevard.
“I saw this was under construction, and I’ve been watching it,” customer Keith Bridwell said. “I used to shop at them in Colorado.”
Thirty minutes after opening Tuesday morning, the parking lot was full. Most of the customers were moms with children.
“Columbia needs more natural food stores,” Annette Simpson said. “We only have Clovers.”
Instead of offering paper or plastic bags, used empty boxes line the front of the store by the cash registers. Customers are encouraged to bring their own tote bags for groceries or purchase new ones at the front of the store.
Customers are able to order products at no additional charge and usually receive them in about a week, manager Travis Kimball said. In addition, a credentialed nutritional health coach is available for health counseling.
“I need gluten-free, especially for my blood sugar,” said Lillian Weddle, one of the first customers.
Items for pet care and baby care are available in addition to produce and the typical grocery stock. Nearly 500 items, including beans, candy and baking supplies, are available in bulk.
Kimball said the company is a growing, opening a store almost every month for the past year. He moved his family to Columbia to manage the new store.
“I’ve had experience opening other stores for other companies,” he said. “I have experience working for Natural Grocers, which is a big plus. I’ve got a background in working with natural foods. I think those three things combined really helped to give me an edge.”
According to Kimball, Natural Grocers wants to coexist with the established natural grocery stores, such as the two Clovers locations and supermarkets.
"We intend for this store to be extremely successful," he said. "I think we're going to bring in new customers that don't normally shop at some of the other stores."