When Blossom Grocery moves into its new location in early 2016, it will at once be the newest and oldest natural foods grocery store in San Juan County. Since Jeff Nichols opened Blossom in 1977, Lopez has watched the store grow and change – along with the consumption habits of the island. When I recently asked Blossom co-owner, Brian Kvistad, to what he attributes this growth, he pointed to “the mainstreaming of organics” across our society. “There’s a growing cultural desire for authenticity and connection to place … I think people want to know the story behind their food,” he explained as we discussed what led Brian and his wife, Jennell, to decide to more than double the size of their grocery store and move it into the big red barn across the street from the Lopez Community Center.
Brian, ever the humble person, of course downplays the role that Blossom has played in the growing popularity of organics on Lopez. “The number one thing we do is make the product available,” he says. This sentiment is echoed by Blossom’s marketing director, Josh Ratza: “We are merely a brick and mortar house where it is all kept at the proper temperature with good lighting and clean floors.” But I think one has to acknowledge the impact of the immense dedication to providing quality, healthy, local goods that Brian, Jennell, Josh and the rest of the Blossom staff have had.
In addition to keeping the lights on, the people at Blossom provide some great insights into consumption and buying patterns that are pretty instructional for Lopez and beyond. “There’s a broad spectrum of needs and [shopping] habits, and we’re seeing a reexamination of that spectrum,” explained Brian as he reflected on how the new Blossom store location will help his team stay in tune with customers. “Not all food occasions are created equal,” he continued: “Some people just want a meal; some shop for the week; and some just shop for their specialty items.”
The new and improved Blossom Grocery is being designed to accommodate those different occasions. For starters, the new store will be constructed to be a grocery store – something Blossom’s current location was never meant to be (It used to be a video rental store in an earlier life, and over the years the Kvistads have added on rooms). The huge red barn space will make shopping easier and simpler to access, and will of course be ADA compliant. It’ll have two check-out registers instead of one, as well as other redundancies that will speed things up and minimize the impact of occasional breakdowns. More efficient heating and refrigeration and more daylight and LED lighting will give the store a smaller energy footprint. Brian says that changes like these will ultimately show up as better prices for customers. More shelf space and a more efficient operation overall will help Blossom drive better, more competitive arrangements with suppliers.
Speaking of suppliers, Brian is also hopeful that the new store will result in Blossom’s being able to provide even more local Lopez products. Simply having more space will help Blossom sell more. Brian, who finally gets his own office, will have the breathing room to focus on things like building a pipeline for all the products on Lopez.
How else will Lopez be impacted by a bigger Blossom? The store will need more employees. Brian predicts they’ll increase their staff of five employees to seven in the short term. Down the road, he’d also like to do more community education. Things like: natural food meal planning workshops, courses on what different “natural food” or “organic” labels actually mean, cooking classes, food sampling, and even store tours. How will the new location change the dynamic in the Village? “It’s hard to say,” says Brian, “people will adjust – they always do.”
The “new” Blossom will be open before we know it. Construction in the red barn started right after the Blossom open house was held there last weekend. While you wait, the “old” Blossom is stocked and busy as ever. Go check it out to practice changing those old shopping habits so you’re ready when the new store opens in 2016. Jennell and Brian Kvistad, owners of Blossom Grocery, showing the Lopez community the new location for their growing natural foods store.