Natural Grocers’ new store brings Steamboat building full circle |

Natural Grocers’ new store brings Steamboat building full circle

Meghan O'Brien stocks the produce department Thursday at the Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage in downtown Steamboat Springs. O'Brien was in town to help set up the new store, which will open its doors Friday.

— When the new Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage store opens its doors in Steamboat Springs at 8:56 a.m. Friday, it will mark the return of a full-service grocery store to the building at 335 Lincoln Ave.

City Market occupied the newly remodeled building until January 1987, when it moved to its current location in Central Park Plaza.

"We're very excited to be here," Natural Grocers store manager Tony Willemse said Thursday. "And we're feeling the excitement from our employees, who can't wait to show our store to the community."

Willemse said that of the 21 employees hired to work at the new store, all but three are from within the community. He was particularly pleased, he said, because Natural Grocers employees are required to be knowledgeable about healthy foods.

The arrival of Natural Grocers, a rapidly growing chain with its roots in Golden, is emblematic of changing consumer preferences. The store will sell only USDA-certified organic produce and meats from animals raised without the use of antibiotics or hormones.

Customer service is a point of emphasis in the store, Willemse said, and customers should expect to be able to approach employees and receive informative answers about the foods, supplements and body products on the shelves of the store.

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The store employs both a vitamin manager and a nutrition consultant who is available by appointment for free educational sessions with customers.

Another out-of-the-ordinary facet of the new Natural Grocers store is the community room with its demonstration kitchen. There also is free Wi-Fi in the community room and complimentary Equal Exchange fair trade organic coffee from 9 to 11 a.m.

Nearly half of the new store's floor space will be devoted to nutrition supplements, assistant manager Sean Backes said, but customers should expect to find most of everything they would find in a larger supermarket.

There is a wide selection of organic produce, including seasonal High Mesa apples from Hotchkiss. There is a selection of both fresh and frozen breads. The fresh bread comes from Rudi's Organic Bakery in Boulder, and the frozen section includes gluten-free bread products like pizza crusts.

"We take the guesswork out of gluten-free," Backes said. "Everything is labeled that way."

The popularity of grab-and-go prepared meals isn't lost on Natural Grocers. Their selection, strategically placed just inside the entrance, includes meals like beef tips by Niman Ranch, which works with more than 700 independent farmers and ranchers nationally. Look for beef products from Northwest Colorado to appear in the store soon, Backes said.

The new store has a selection of fresh meats, particularly beef and chicken. A thick-cut, 10-ounce, hormone- and antibiotic-free Meyer Natural Angus ribeye is priced at $12.89.

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts from free-range chickens produce by Boulder Natural Chicken costs $6.95 a pound. A six-pack of breasts priced at $11.44 offered the additional convenience of individually wrapped portions.

Healthy human food isn't all that Natural Grocers sells. The store devotes about 15 feet of shelf space to pet foods. There are also sections of the store devoted to household cleaning, laundry and kitchen paper products, Backes said.

Speaking of paper, don't look for paper or plastic bags at the checkout stand — Natural Grocers proclaims it is shopping bag-free.

Shoppers who forget to bring their own reusable shopping bags will be offered free recycled boxes, or the opportunity to purchase reusable bags ranging in price from 75 cents for a small bag to $3.99 for a canvas bag.

Margaret and Phillip Isely founded Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage in Golden in 1955. They borrowed $200 from her mother and took orders for stone ground wheat bread. Their children remain active in the company. Natural Grocers went public in July and its shares trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email

If you go

What: Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage grand opening

When: Today

Where: 335 Lincoln Ave.

Hours: 8:56 a.m. to 8:04 p.m. Monday through Saturday; 9:56 a.m. to 6:06 p.m. Sundays

Telephone: 970-871-0100