hen the Keller’s IGA on Ludlow Avenue in Clifton’s Gaslight District shuttered more than three years ago, it left a bustling neighborhood without a grocery store. Since then, the community has been rallying to raise funds to bring a full grocery store back to the area. But in the meantime, there’s a beacon of hope in the planned move of Clifton Natural Foods to a storefront on Ludlow next to Graeter’s, just across the street from the old IGA store.
Aline Craig got her start in the natural foods industry as a teenager working at New World Food Shop, a former natural and macrobiotic food store on Ludlow Avenue. In 1985, she purchased Natural Life Nutrition Shoppe on McMillan Street, where Mac’s Pizza Pub is currently located in Clifton Heights. She ran the store by herself until her husband Bob joined her a couple of years later, moving into 135 W. McMillan St., and starting Clifton Natural Foods. They’ve been there for almost 20 years selling vitamins, teas, bulk foods and fresh organic produce.
Two years ago, the owners of their building announced they were retiring and had sold the building to a developer, who plans to demolish it and put a U-Square-like retail and housing space in its place.
“I wish the city would’ve stepped up to the bat and said, ‘Hey, that’s the really neat old-town area near the university. We’ll come forward and we’ll put some money into saving these buildings,’ but the city didn’t,” Aline says.
After considering their options, the Craigs decided to move their store to the grocer-less Gaslight District. “They were clamoring for some groceries, and we were looking for a place, so we will provide,” Bob says.
“The industry really has changed a lot since I started,” Aline says. “A lot of what we sell can be bought from other locations now. Kroger has a huge natural foods section. We have a lot more competition, so we had to figure out what our niche would be if we decided to go forward.”
Even though they sell a lot of items like juice, cereal and kombucha, which can all be found at Kroger, Fresh Market or Whole Foods, many of their items are still fairly obscure. “We try to have stuff that you can get that everybody wants and then we also like to fill in the things that people can’t find elsewhere,” Aline says.
“But not so quirky that one customer a year buys it,” Bob adds.
They sell plum vinegar that is hard to find at healthy-esque stores in the area and also stock Wooster, Ohio’s Hartzler dairy butters. Plus, the 60 years of combined experience and knowledge the couple has between them is nonpareil. The Craigs take the time to speak to their customers about how to live a healthy lifestyle, something they’ve been living themselves for the past 30 years.
“We can spend one-on-one time with folks,” Bob says. “It’s more of a hands-on kind of thing. You don’t get that in Kroger too much.”
The Craigs are hoping the move to Ludlow will not only generate new opportunities for them but also for the business district. “People will be able to walk to get their groceries, and then they’ll be able to do other things on the strip instead of having to go down the hill for all their groceries,” Bob says. “Everybody will benefit.”
The core of their business is in organics, but the Craigs also want to provide customers with choices. If there’s something specific a customer has a hankering for, they’ll consider it — within reason. “No Jif peanut butter. No Wonder Bread. We do have some standards,” Aline jokes.
They don’t sell booze, but Ludlow Wines is right across the street.
The new natural foods store is a step in the right direction for the bustling, walkable neighborhood, but the people of Clifton still want a full-scale grocery. More than 400 members have joined the Clifton Cooperative Market, a community-based organization attempting to resurrect the old IGA via a co-op that involves “owners” paying $200 for a small share of the company. They’re trying to raise funds to purchase the IGA and reopen it themselves, after owner Steve Goessling failed to sell it.
At press time, the Craigs had everything ready to move into the new store and were just waiting for Duke Energy to turn on the lights. The new store is located inside a former chiropractor’s office and has new shelving, floors and paint and will get a new façade. It’s smaller than their McMillan location, but they’re making good use of the space and will be able to carry most of their foodstuffs.
“We’re in there working almost every day and if the door’s open, people will walk by and say, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re so excited, we can’t wait.’ We hear that all the time,” Aline says. “It’s really made us feel just so positive that this was the right thing to do, if we had any doubts.”
Clifton Natural Foods
Go: 336 Ludlow St., Clifton;
Hours: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.