The story of
as told by owner, Tom Johnson
In February 1969, The Heritage Store opened its doors to make the hard-to-find items mentioned in the Edgar Cayce readings more easily available. Up to that point the various formulas had been made sporadically and elsewhere, but there was no central place where all of the various products could be obtained easily and quickly.
Having been inspired by reading "The Sleeping Prophet" and other books about Edgar Cayce in 1968, I attended the first A.R.E. Youth conference that same year in the fall. It was there that I became interested in the medical readings and wanted to know where to get the various things that they mentioned. I was surprised to learn that there was no central source of supply, and became convinced that there should be such a place.
After trying unsuccessfully to persuade the owner of a health food store in Virginia Beach to supply the items, I resolved to do it myself, at least on a part-time basis, I returned to New Jersey, where I was working as a computer systems engineer, and began to do some research.
Soon afterwards, I met the well known physiotherapist, Dr. H.J. Reilly, who encouraged me to continue. After doing a few months' research, I realized that it was impractical to do anything on a part-time basis in New Jersey and determined, not without a great deal of trepidation, to move to Virginia Beach and go "whole hog."
Soon after, on a weekend trip to the Beach, I leased a tiny 12' X 20' store that was available for only $65 per month. Probably very few of you have been in this living room-sized store, located on Pacific Avenue near 17th Street. We occupied it for less than a year. At the time it was the smallest and least expensive store located in the whole resort area, so we were lucky to get it.
Things were a little slow, to put it mildly, during our first few months. I knew nothing about retailing and opened so unnoticed that the only customer found his way in the door in the first week, spending a total of $1.19. Word spread slowly, however, and by the end of the first month our sales totaled $50. The second month they leapt upward to $80, and an outstanding 60% increase. This revealed the extent of my ignorance about running a business! However, we did do an enormous amount of research in the readings during these months, laying the groundwork for future product development.
After realizing that we were just spinning our wheels and helping virtually no one, we decided to venture into mail order. This was done in the fall of 1969 when the publication of a price list only listed less than two dozen Cayce items. Orders trickled in slowly from around the country due to the A.R.E.'s help in sending our price list to people who wrote to them asking where to get things. In January of 1970, we were offered a store nearly four times as large, located at 204 22nd. Street. As we were still losing money, we were concerned about how we would pay the large rent of $125 a month. And, how would we ever fill the cavernous empty space in that huge store - later described in the New York A.R.E. News as "the world's smallest store"?!
Needless to say, we moved and decided to add health foods - a logical extension of merchandise, which would help to fill the empty shelves. Within a few months, the store began to break even and we hired the first employee, Carol Barraff, who for many months processed and filled all mail-orders in addition to her other duties. Not too many months afterward, Ann Schreiner, the owner of a health food store in Cleveland, Ohio, stopped in and persuaded us to sell some of the Cayce products to her at a discount so she could have them available in Cleveland. This modest beginning launched the wholesale part of our business which we have tried to limit, as Cayce wisely suggested, to those who believe in the products themselves rather than the money that could be made from them.
In 1971, we developed a mail-order price list of non-Cayce items and books, a new direction for us. A year later, we discovered Jimmy Scribner's Solarama Board which proved to be very popular, but quite controversial. By 1973, the 22nd Street store was getting pretty crowded and we began to look for larger quarters. The ideal place was a store occupied by a shoe store on Laskin Rd. (31st Street), but it was not available. After looking for a year for a larger place, we gave up in frustration and said, "God, you do the looking!" Within a week the owner of the shoe store contacted us and told us that 317 Laskin Road was available for a favorable rent. The move was completed in October of 1974. In 1986, we again needed larger quarters so we began looking for a separate location to house our lab and shipping departments. But, fortuitously, the Eagle's building across the street became available and we moved. Once again, the floor space (17,000 square feet) seemed oceanic. We opened for business in November and held our official grand opening ceremony in December. We added our deli/cafe in 1992. It used to be an old ice cream store (junk food into healthy food!?). We moved the bookstore into an old pharmacy, and moved manufacturing and shipping to the back of the adjacent Rite Aid Store. We occupied 32,000 square feet and felt like we still needed more space. Our location stayed at 314 Laskin Road for 24 years until the city of Virginia Beach made plans to remodel our area with a series of upscale retail shops and condominiums called the Laskin Road Gateway Project. We now knew it was time to find yet another space.
Times were changing and in 2010 the city of Virginia Beach got the ball rolling with a series of road construction projects within the vicinity of our store. The goal was to give Laskin Road a 'facelift.' We had been under pressure to find a new place because our block was in the works to be demolished. Our store, the Jewish Mother, Waffles & Things restaurant, the small retail space to the left of our bookstore, and Atlantic Cleaners (next to Jewish Mother) were all going to be at the mercy of the 'wrecking ball' with the Rite Aid Store, our old shipping/lab facility, and even Beach Auto, next to the Rite Aid, were all eventually going to be leveled to the ground. With the city's impending deadline for us to move we made every effort to comfort our regular customers and employees who had a close connection with our old store. We had been frantically trying to find a place that would accommodate our retail space plus all of our lab, shipping equipment, and the mail order department. We were planning on keeping our retail space close to the oceanfront while having manufacturing and mail order work at a remote location. Finding a place was getting more difficult and by the fall of 2010, Nutraceutical, a Utah based company specializing inthe manufacturing of nutritional supplements sold in health and natural food stores, stepped in and bought the mail order and manufacturing part of Heritage as well as the name "The Heritage Store."
We finally found a place that was only about a half mile from our old spot that we occupied for more than 20 years. We reopened our store in December 2010 with a new name: Heritage Natural Market. Our current location used to be the Cool & Eclectic store and the name of the shopping center was changed from Linkhorn Shoppes to Heritage Natural Market at Linkhorn Shoppes (where the old Cool & Eclectic store used to be) and we hope to stay here for a very long time. We refitted the entire single-floor space to accommodate all our departments that occupied TWO floors in our old building. With clever ingenuity and a perfectly designed floor plan we were able to squeeze all our retail and administrative departments under one roof and in February of 2011 we opened up our cafe with all new kitchen equipment followed very shortly by opening our Heritage Holistic Center. Many of our long term customers were very pleased at how quickly we put everything together and how beautiful our new home is.
As of March 2011, the buildings that surrounded our old establishment at 314 Laskin Road were brought down by modern technology. Stopping progress is something that we just didn't have the power to do. In our new location we will continue to be the store you love to explore! We welcome all of you to continue to be a part of the Heritage family for years to come!
One idea that we try to keep in our minds and hearts on a daily basis:
Edgar Cayce Reading 254-47 "Do not lose sight of the fact that all shall be used for the benefit of individuals' relationships to man and to the Creative Energy, and not for the purely commercial or monetary reasons."
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