This past weekend brought an unexpected sadness to many Pittsburgh families, foodies, and natural living enthusiasts. And before I go any further, I’m not referring to a loss of life or any of the true tragedy we learn about in the news each day. Yet it is still a loss that is deeply felt — the loss of an independently-owned grocery store that many in Southwestern Pennsylvania have come to love, a place that employed a team of friendly, helpful, and intelligent employees, and one of the best vendors of fresh, natural, organic, and healthy food items in or around Pittsburgh — the loss of Right By Nature Hometown Market.
On Friday, April 29, Right By Nature (RBN) announced that they would be “suspending all services from their [current] location after business on Saturday, April 30th.” And, although their intent is to reopen later in the year at a new location, this was abrupt and sobering news to many faithful shoppers, myself included, as evidenced by the outpouring of affection on the Right By Nature facebook page. After opening in 2008, RBN quickly won the hearts of many customers by trying to offer the best of everything to its patrons. It boasted value with high quality products at affordable prices. It offered convenience with online ordering and home delivery. And it demonstrated a commitment to social responsibility, particularly through the regular “Friday Fest” happy hours when open invitations were extended to the public for an evening of free hors d’oeuvres, wine, and music, meanwhile a large percentage of that day’s sales were donated to local nonprofits.
So what happened? How could such a well-loved business fail? Unfortunately, the devotion was not enough, and perhaps the timing was not the best. RBN did offer incredible value — shoppers could snag local, organic produce at prices well below what can be found at Whole Foods. But at a time of rising food prices and economic uncertainty, it seems that many people still find it hard to make the personal investment of shopping “organic”. This is despite the mounting evidence that having a mostly organic diet may play a significant role in our overall health, most notably in the psychological, intellectual and physical development of our children. I truly understand the pinch that is felt when the cash register prints the receipt, especially after having converted from a DINK (double-income, no kids) lifestyle to living on one income with a growing child. So I understand why many families feel driven to the super low prices of cheap, mass-manufactured food offered by places like Wal-Mart and other big-box grocery stores. And, yes-I know, many of those stores now offer “fresh” and natural products at very unnatural prices. We must also consider the effect that is had on the growers and the communities that comes from the power of those stores to drive down prices in what many consider to be a heavy-handed way…..now I’m straying a bit from the point that I’m trying to make, which is that we all need to consider what goes into getting our food from farm to table, and we need to understand the benefits or dangers to our bodies, our lives, our communities, and our environment that are associated with the food choices we make. RBN was a beacon of hope for the movement in our society to understand that our connection with food is more than just filling our bellies as quickly and cheaply as possible. Rather, it is our life source. It is what brings us together as families, friends, and communities. It is integral to our individual and collective cultures. And instead of just being a burden on our time and wallets, eating and cooking are most nourishing when they are central priorities in our lives. Shopping at RBN made me feel as if all of this was coming together in beautiful harmony — I found the highest quality ingredients in a place that promoted that strong connection between oneself and food, nature, and community.
Right By Nature Hometown Market will be sorely missed during this time of year that is normally celebrated for crop growth, ground awakening, and early harvests. I sincerely hope that it will quickly return as a thriving business in the Pittsburgh area to fill the void that is left from its rapid departure, and that it can regain the love and devotion that many customers have shown. I have nothing but best wishes for the owner and employees during this time of uncertainty. I also hope that many more people, in the Pittsburgh community and elsewhere, will be inspired to reclaim the food that they eat by cooking as many things from scratch as possible, by seeking out the highest quality ingredients available, and by using the time spent in learning about food, cooking, and eating to grow closer to their friends, family, and nature.
To close this post, I would like to provide you with my Top 10 (er, Top 11…I mean, 12….ok, 13!) reasons why I fell in love with Right By Nature Hometown Market:
#13 — Fresh, organic, and local produce at great prices
#12 — A full selection of food items, from small local providers to mainstream national brands
#11 — Delivery / pick up service for those days when you don’t want to leave the house / car.
#10 — The deli, salad, and smoothie bars — check out this earlier post for a Forbidden Rice recipe inspired by something out of the RBN deli case
#9 — Unfailingly superb customer service
#8 — Friday Fest Happy Hours
#7 — Inspirational quotes and thoughts of the day painted on the walls, bagging materials, and posted on the store’s facebook page
#6 — The fact that it was an independently owned and operated store, which meant more money staying in the community instead of lining a corporate executive’s pocket
#5 — Great employees, such as superstar employee Mo, whose personality filled the store and who seemed to have developed a true rapport with everyone who came through his check-out line — in fact, my 2-year-old talks about his “friend Mo” every time we pass the building!
#4 — Free, indoor parking (no carting groceries out in the rain!)
#3 — $10 reward voucher issued for every $250 spent
#2 — A free piece of fruit for children to eat while shopping (so much better than the Cookie Card offered by the major grocery “giant” in the region)
#1 — Bulk Foods – the best selection of bulk foods that I had found in Pittsburgh — I believe I will miss this the most!