SKOWHEGAN — The town was without a health food store for about six weeks this summer for the first time in 20 years, but the drought is over in a big way.
The town will soon have three.
Spice of Life Natural Foods, which first opened on Water Street in 1992, closed its store in August at Skowhegan Village Plaza, forcing customers to go out of town to shop.
It reopened on Wednesday, with new owner Jean Marie Smith of Cornville and former owner Bryce Boynton of Mercer back at work dispensing brown rice, dried beans, essential oils and spices.
Meanwhile, some former employees of Spice of Life had plans to open two other health food stores in town.
Kelly Roberts of Clinton and store manager Sara Sneed of Mercer will open Simply Natural this week in the Kennebec Village plaza near Tractor Supply. Sneed had worked at Spice of Life for seven years.
Across town, Virginia Jewell, who had worked at Spice of Life for 17 years, has opened Ginny’s Natural Corner at Skowhegan Plaza, on the corner of Main Street and Waterville Road.
Roberts, who worked at Spice of Life this past summer, said she was on the verge of buying Spice of Life before it closed. When the deal fell through, she said she decided to open her own store with natural groceries, supplements and herbs.
She said she has a passion for Maine-made products.
“My goal is to support local by purchasing from local farmers and artisans,” Roberts said. “We Mainers have grit and ingenuity, and I want to showcase that.”
What will the impact be of having three health food stores in the Skowhegan?
“People will be more healthy,” Sneed said with a laugh. “We’ll all have to be more competitive; we’re really going to have to push what the public wants and the sales will have to be consistent — we don’t want customers to come in and wait for weeks on end to get their products. Everybody is going to have to step it up.”
Smith, at Spice of Life, said having competition in the health food business will be new to Skowhegan.
“This has been the only game in town for 20 years,” she said. “Two people springboarded from this store and decided to open up their own store for various reasons within the same town. We all kind of split up in different groups.”
Smith, who worked part-time at the store for about two years, said the store was closed for renovations and restructuring of the business.
“We were going to close for good — there was some mismanagement going on,” Smith said. “I just kind of fell into it; everything kind of happened all at once. It’s going to be exciting; we’re all going to have our specialties.”
She said Boynton, who owned the store for so many years, will join her soon to be co-owner of the store.
“We all worked together in this store at one time,” Boynton said. “But when the store shut down, people went on their own.”
He said it will be hard for all three stores to survive, but drive and ambition will be the keys to success.
“It’s more than just a business,” he said. “It’s a passion. It’s a lifestyle.”
Virginia Jewell, of Canaan, at Ginny’s Natural Corner, said she grew up in the health food business, starting at The Depot when she was 16 and later New Moon Rising in Waterville.
She said when she left Spice of Life just before it closed Aug. 17 there was a lot of turmoil at the store and, as the primary purchasing agent, she felt her customers were not being served.
“With my five employees we have about 65 years of retail experience in the heath food business,” Jewell said. “Three stores surviving in Skowhegan will have to do with attitude and how well we can all work together. Because I’ve been in the business for so long, I want to make sure my customers are being served properly.
“It’s nothing personal. This is a way of life. This is what I know.”
Smith said Spice of Life will be open seven days a week, as will Simply Natural.
Ginny’s Natural Corner will be closed Saturdays.
Doug Harlow — 612-2367