Store will fill space vacated by La-Z-Boy

A natural grocery store known for its affordability and quirky hours of operation is opening a Gresham store in March.

Natural Grocers is scheduled to open March 18 at 407 N.W. Burnside Road, which was formerly home to La-Z-Boy Furniture. The furniture store closed in October.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Natural Grocers will open in March at the building formerly occupied by La-Z-Boy, 401 N.W. Burnside Road, Gresham.It will be Natural Grocers’ sixth Oregon location. The Lakewood, Colo.,-based company has 80-plus stores in 13 western and midwestern states, and opened its first Oregon stores last year in Medford, Salem, Beaverton, Bend and Corvallis.

Natural Grocers is opening more stores later this year in Clackamas, Eugene and Vancouver, Wash., said Merredith Branscombe, company spokeswoman. Each store opens with between 15 to 25 employees, with more hired as needed, she added.

The addition of a natural food store known for its thrift is a welcome one for Gresham, said Mayor Shane Bemis. Natures, formerly Wild Oats, operated in the Oregon Trail Shopping Center for many years, but eventually closed.

Lillian’s Natural Marketplace tried to fill the void in downtown Gresham; however, it too closed last year. Central Market & Kitchen, with a focus on fresh and local products, has taken its place.

“I frequently hear from people who say they have to travel to Portland or Happy Valley just to meet their natural grocery needs,” Bemis said, adding that the City Council has identified this market sector as a priority worthy of its yearly work plan. “The Council Work Plan we just approved has a project on it that asks the city to investigate both the issue of geographic areas that may not have enough grocery options at all — so-called food deserts — as well as the importance of attracting natural grocery options in Gresham.”

Founded by Margaret and Philip Isely in 1955, the company began in Golden, Colo., as a door-to-door operation selling whole grain bread. The couple shared their nutritional knowledge with customers, leading to their first storefront called Vitamin Cottage, which eventually became Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage.

The stores offer free health and nutrition education, as well as high-quality natural and organic products at an affordable price. Stores sell hormone- and antibiotic-free meats, organic produce and products without artificial flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, hydrogenated oil or high-fructose corn syrup.

Emphasis is placed on ingredients for home cooks, not ready-made meals or deli items.

The stores have nutritional health coaches and boast demonstration kitchens and community rooms.

But don’t expect any frills like paper shopping bags. Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own, buy reusable bags there for 99 cents (for each one, 5 cents is donated to a local food bank) or use a cardboard box like you would at Costco.

“If Whole Foods is Disneyland, we’re kind of like the national park,” Branscombe said.

Natural Grocers also are open “at least” from 8:56 a.m. to 8:06 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 9:56 a.m. to 6:06 p.m. Sundays, according to the company website. “We’re open to serve you,” the site reads, adding that the unique hours are designed to be welcoming to customers.

The company also gravitates toward repurposing buildings instead of building new sites.

This business practice is particularly heartening to Bemis “because I know that a number of Gresham residents were very concerned about what might ultimately happen with that space,” he said, referring to the closed La-Z-Boy store. “This is about as good as the situation could have turned out.”

But you Trader Joe’s fans, don’t worry: Gresham will continue to woo that grocer, too.

“Their approach and market niche is different than Natural Grocers, and there’s no reason they couldn’t both be successful enterprises,” Bemis said, adding that he met with representatives from Trader Joe’s last year and will continue to approach them this year.

“At one point they told us that Gresham was on their five-year plan, but that was before the Great Recession. Now that we are clawing out of it, we are again knocking on the door and advocating for the community. I think Gresham would be a terrific market for their products.”

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