While health food fads may come and go, a loyal clientele has kept Walsh Natural Health in business at 2116½ Central St. for 20 years. Lynn Bednar, who bought the store nine years ago from its original owner, attributes the popularity of the shop to customer service and results.
“The primary thing is that people get results without all the side effects from drugs. They feel better.” said Ms. Bednar. A second reason, she said, is that “people really trust us. We have an excellent knowledge of supplements. We’re not there just to sell something but to educate our customers.”
Part of the education, she said, is to clear up misinformation about supplements. Although supplements are not regulated by the FDA as drugs, they are regulated by the FDA, under the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994, which classifies them as “food” rather than “drugs.”
“Supplements can’t claim to cure anything or cure a disease,” said Ms. Bednar. “You’ll see labels that say ‘supports [positive] cholesterol levels’ and the like.” Yet over the years, she said, she has seen the supplement industry become more mainstream and more science-based.
The “natural” in the store’s title indicates that the products have undergone no chemical alteration, said Ms. Bednar.
The store stocks items that customers have purchased for several years, along with some new items.
Smoothies, “superfoods” and gluten-free products are popular now, said store manager Collin Allison.
“Gluten-free has been a really big thing for us,” Ms. Allison said. The shop carries not only gluten-free items but also gluten-free makeup, shampoo and the like. To ensure these products are safe for anyone suffering from celiac disease, she said, “We ask suppliers to provide lists of specific ingredients so we can know what’s safe for people with celiac disease,” she said.
Customers who come to the store for one reason may find themselves coming back for others. “We have people that come for different reasons,” said Ms. Bednar. “Some come for natural skin care or body care. We have something for just about everyone: older adults who need extra nutrition, mothers and babies, people with colds, people who want skin care,” she said.
Weight-loss supplements can be trendy, said Ms. Bednar; “They tend to come and go. You always have people looking for the magic pill, but right now there are a few very promising ones.”
And then there is what Ms. Bednar terms the “Dr. Oz factor,” after Mehmet Oz, a cardiothoracic surgeon and teaching professor at Columbia University who has a popular television talk show. “He’s sort of a blessing and a curse. He has raised awareness, but he’s sending people off half-cocked. He [has recommended] things that no health-food store in America would carry,” she added.
Ms. Bednar purchased Walsh Natural Health after health problems of her own led her to study alternatives to traditional Western medicine. “I studied a lot, took courses and obtained some certification and planned to apply for a job at Walsh, when I heard it was for sale.”
With her new knowledge and her business background, Ms. Bednar has kept pace with trends, held onto the traditional and valued and kept the store thriving in its Central Street location.
Ms. Bednar said she does not discount Western medicine entirely. “It is good for diagnostics and for surgery,” she said. “But that place in between,” she said, is where natural supplements can help. “They are so powerful and can do so much without the pain and agony of some things in the Western mode.”