The newest Vitamin Cottage Natural Grocers is opening on Sunday, May 19, in Wheat Ridge, only a few miles from the actual cottage where the company got its start under the ownership of Margaret and Philip Isely. Not only is Natural Grocers celebrating the opening of the new store, but it's also commemorating sixty years in business next week — quite an accomplishment for a health food and supplement company that got its start as a door-to-door business in 1955, the same year that Swanson's introduced TV dinners.
The Iselys originally started Vitamin Cottage after Margaret Isely became chronically ill and doctors could not keep her in good health. Margaret began to research the nascent field of supplements and health food. Daughter and current executive vice-president Heather Isely explains that it was Adelle Davis's book Let's Get Well that set her mother on the path to wellness and inspired her to help others improve their health. The door-to-door business became Vitamin Cottage in 1963, when the Iselys opened their first store in Lakewood. Heather Isely recalls helping out at the store, taking Mason jars of goat milk to school when everyone else was drinking regular milk from cartons handed out by the school, and being asked if she was a vegetarian by her schoolmates.
"My parents got a lot of good labor out of us," she explains. "People thought of us as strange or quirky, but to me it seemed normal."
Isely left for college, but returned to the family business in Denver when her brother hired her to develop the company's first produce section. Her parents' store had always sold food as well as nutritional supplements and health-related books, so the expansion was a natural progression. Isely notes that her parents bought whole animals to break down into cuts for sale at the store, so her childhood dinners were filled with tongue, heart, liver and other offal.
In 1997, she and two of her brothers purchased Vitamin Cottage after her mother passed away and continued to adhere to her parents' five founding principles (which can still be found on the Natural Grocers website). The company went public in 2012 after adopting the name Natural Grocers in 2008, but "Vitamin Cottage" is still a part of the logo.
Isely credits Coloradans with the continued success of Natural Grocers. "In the culture of Colorado, there's a strong sense of independence and education and being empowered by knowledge," she points out. "People want to be empowered to make their own decisions instead of being told what's good for them. Sixty years of empowering health has meant that we've had to stay current."
The Wheat Ridge location is the nineteenth Natural Grocer in the Denver metro area and the 96th in the U.S. The company now employs more than 2,000 people, but Isely still considers each store a neighborhood grocery, pointing out that all of the stores have odd closing times — like 9:04 p.m. or 7:06 p.m. — because her mother would always help customers, even if they showed up a few minutes after closing. "We don't ever want to close the doors and tell people to leave."
As part of Natural Grocers' commitment to the community and environment, the company is holding several tree planting ceremonies as several parks in Golden, Lakewood and Denver, planting more than thirty trees and presenting a $5,000 check to Denver Urban Gardens. "The health of the environment, our health and the economy are all inextricably linked," Isely explains.
Additionally, there will be giveaways on May 19 at the new store, which is at 4900 Kipling Street. Beginning at 8 a.m., gift cards ranging in value from $5 to $100 will be given to the first sixty customers in line.
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If you can't wait until May 19 for some free goodies, Natural Grocers is celebrating Earth Day on April 22 with a few giveaways at all of its stores. Free seed packets will be available to the first 50 paying customers, a free reusable grocery bag will be given to every paying customer until they run out, and a free copy of Judith Schwartz's Cows Save the Earth will be given to the first 60 customers who spend more than $60.