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Building on Tradition

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— July 15, 2017

Building on Tradition

  • When Cyril and Jane Nickoloff opened the Health Food Center of Youngstown in 1947, the city of Youngstown, Ohio, was a major steel industry center. The Nickoloffs had progressive ideas about health and wellness, and their business was among the first to buy from early vitamin and supplement manufacturers.
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When Cyril and Jane Nickoloff opened the Health Food Center of Youngstown in 1947, the city of Youngstown, Ohio, was a major steel industry center. The Nickoloffs had progressive ideas about health and wellness, and their business was among the first to buy from early vitamin and supplement manufacturers.

As the store celebrates its 70th anniversary, the Nickoloffs’ granddaughter, Natalie Fox, expresses pride in the family’s history of innovation. “My grandparents would travel across the country to health shows and bring back products that were revolutionary in the industry,” says Natalie, who helps her parents, Nancy and Edward Fox, run the present-day store, located in Boardman, a few miles from Youngstown.

The original Health Food Center carried supplements, health and beauty aids, dried fruit, nuts and foods that were allergen-free and dietetic. There was a juice bar, and industry reps who came to the store to demonstrate products included wellness pioneer Paul Bragg, discussing apple cider vinegar. “We’ve always educated customers,” says Natalie. “If you’re buying a product, we’ll say, ‘Let me give you more information on that.’ We’re building trust, so people are more likely to come back and talk when they have another issue.”

Nancy and Ed took over the business as the shop was moving to Boardman, providing more parking space and a floor space of 3,000 square feet that enabled them to expand their food offerings, especially gluten-free, dairy-free and low- to no-sugar products. The emphasis on service has remained. When customers are unable to get to the store due to injury or disability, they can call to have products delivered; when Natalie worked in the store as a teenager, she often dropped off orders on the way home. “I appreciate having that strong ethical, client-focused base,” she says.

Natalie now does purchasing, marketing, and administrative work, freeing her parents to manage the store. Just as her grandparents did, she travels to trade shows, seeking new product lines. Her sister works in sales. The family’s approach to wellness emphasizes balance: wholesome meals, exercise, stress management and rest. “We were brought up playing so many sports,” says Natalie. “Being active is important, but so is making time and space for relaxation.”

They apply the same principles to working with customers. “We help them supplement nutrients when necessary,” she said, “like if they’re on the go a lot of traveling. But it’s not always about taking vitamins. Are you getting enough water? Are you sleeping well? People have to check themselves. A consciousness around taking care of yourself is always developing. It’s also important to feed your soul with whatever resonates with you—community work or volunteering or spiritual practice.”

As the store evolves, the owners hope to offer more services, such as bodywork, while expanding the educational component with seminars. The combination of education and personal attention has proved effective. Although nationally the Internet has taken a large chunk of the market share, Natalie said the store’s clientele has grown. Among their customers are elders who knew the long-lived Nickoloffs. Children and grandchildren of original customers continue to shop at the store, taking advantage of the wide range of products and competitive pricing. “We have people taking care of serious health problems—cancer, Crohn’s disease, and other debilitating conditions,” says Natalie. “Also people who are fitness-focused and want to take good care of their health. We get every type of person you can imagine.”

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