It’s gone through a few locations and a few names, but over the years, the Whole Foods Market has become an institution.
Richard Hunt, the current general manager of the store, admits that when his wife Shelley Hawn opened the Penticton Bulk Food Emporium in 1983, they had no idea they would still be operating the business three decades later.
“That’s a long, long time, let me tell you,” said Hunt. “We’ve had a very good run at it here in Penticton.
“It’s been a good business to have and we feel we’ve made a difference in a lot of ways. We’re happy with the way things turned out.”
Before hiring her husband to operate the business in 1999, Hawn operated the business through its first 16 years of growth, two changes of location and three name changes.
The first name change, to the Whole Food Emporium, came in 1989 to better reflect the changing nature of the products in the store.
There weren’t very many organic products available in the early years, said Hunt, and almost none available as packaged consumer goods.
That started changing by the late 1980s. Natural was the key word in the early days. There weren’t many organic products available at the time, but that gradually changed over the years.
“By the late ‘90s you could buy anything that was available in a conventional format in an organic format,” said Hunt. “We used to have to go out and really look hard for them. Now it’s changed where people are coming and looking for us to sell their product line.”
Greater availability of both packaged product and local organic produce and fruit kept Whole Foods growing, and led to the next name change, to Whole Foods Market.
“I can’t say that 30 years ago, I had a vision of what it is now because a lot of the things we sell now didn’t exist then,” said Hunt. “But it became clear about halfway through the last 30 years that we could grow it into something much more than what it was.”
Key to the store’s longevity, Hunt said, is that both he and Hawn, 30 years ago and today, walked the talk. They had both been involved in food-related businesses that all had the focus on natural, healthy, high nutritional value.
“We were users of natural and healthy foods,” he said. “We wanted to be in business doing something we believed in and was part of our daily life. And we still do that.”
Customers run across a broad spectrum, according to hunt, reflecting the still growing interest in organic and healthy foods.
“One of the bigger categories of growth in the last year or two has been young families, who are starting to raise children and they have made a conscious decisions they don’t want to feed their children conventional foods they feel might be harmful, so they come to us,” said Hunt. “But if you came in here on any given day, you would see teenagers to octogenarians and every income bracket.”
Hunt also praises the staff as dedicated and informed and a major part of the store’s success. Without them, he said, the store’s history would have been much different.
“It’s been a great run. It’s been a great place to raise a family and meet a ton of great people. No regrets,” said Hunt.