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MailTribune.com
  • Natural Grocers opens its first Oregon store in Medford

  • Folks craving organic and natural products will have a new choice next week.
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  • Folks craving organic and natural products will have a new choice next week.
    Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, based out of Lakewood, Colo., will throw open its doors Tuesday, March 26, at 1990 N. Pacific Highway — just up the street from Rogue Valley Mall.
    It's somewhat unusual for a national retailer to make the Rogue Valley its first stop in Oregon. More commonly, retailers build northward along Interstate 5 to Redding, Calif., then jump to Portland and work their way south through Salem and Eugene.
    The company operates 64 stores in 12 Mountain and Midwestern states, but none in California. Oregon becomes its 13th state, and the closest store at present is in Boise.
    Natural Grocers plans to open seven more stores this year, including a location in Salem in June, followed by Beaverton and Bend.
    The company was started by Margaret and Philip Isely, who began selling whole-grain bread in Golden, Colo., and sharing nutrition information door-to-door in 1955. The company now has annual revenues of $264.5 million and 1,800 employees.
    The company went public last year with a $48.1 million stock offering, but the second generation, led by co-president Kemper Isely, remains in control.
    "We find, many times, communities like Medford are underserved," Isely said. "In Medford, there is a small food co-op, and for a larger (natural foods) store, it requires traveling to Ashland."
    Trader Joe's, which opened in nearby Northgate Centre Marketplace last October, "is more complementary than competitive," he said. "They sell private label and some organic products. All of our produce is organic, and I don't remember seeing a lot of meat at Trader Joe's."
    The store will have 25 employees and be managed by Scot Forrest, who transferred here from Colorado.
    "We'll have many local products available that we don't have in the Denver area," Isely said.
    Sticking to its longtime game plan of revamping existing buildings, Natural Grocers acquired the former National Furniture and Mattress store last year and turned the 40,062-square-foot space into more cozy 15,874-square-foot quarters.
    "We're probably going to sub-lease some of the front-end space," Isely said. "We haven't decided what we're going to do with the back end yet."
    The store does not use disposable bags, but provides free recycled boxes or reusable totes. Natural Grocers has a demonstration kitchen and community room, complete with Wi-Fi for customers.
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.
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