Natural Mercantile in Hamilton has provided residents the items they need to live healthy lifestyles for 48 years. Although the store is soon to be sold, the owner is hoping that service will continue for years to come.
The shop opened in 1972 as the first health food store in Northern Virginia, when two California women sought to open a leather goods outpost but were persuaded by the town to also sell groceries. Now the region’s oldest health food store still in operation, Natural Mercantile has changed only in one way—that it sells much more than it ever has. Owner Sue Phillips, who took over the business 15 years ago, said there’s nothing her customers can’t find in the store.
In 2005, Phillips, a 33-year Hamilton resident who had been practicing landscape architecture, purchased the business and took over management after noticing a foreclosed sign on her favorite shop. She said the business had been in a bit of a decline when its then-owner became ill.
“It was in need of some TLC,” Phillips said. “It’s pretty wild how I got in it.”
Phillips said she has performed a lot of maintenance to the store, which operates out of a 1,700-square-foot, 130-year-old building. She said she started her ownership by selling products she was personally interested in purchasing.
“Customers were thrilled,” she said, adding there was a snowball effect from there.
Phillips said, early on, the most popular items in the store were the different types of produce Natural Mercantile sold, since it was the only place in the region where shoppers could purchase organic fruits and vegetables.
That’s now changed dramatically. Today, Phillips sells all types of items, including local meats and nuts, vitamins, soup from Herndon, ferments from southern Virginia, ravioli from Maryland, greeting cards from Berryville, soaps from Lovettsville and Purcellville, and Blooming Hill tea from Philomont. Phillips also sells makeup, lotions, socks and underwear, wine and CBD products, which, she said, are extremely popular at the moment.
One of the more eye-catching fixtures in the store is a kombucha tap with two different varieties of Blue Ridge Bucha ready for pouring.
Phillips said the store is thriving because of her, and her team of two employees’, willingness to evaluate what their customers want. She said patrons trust the quality of items she brings in.
With such success, Phillips’ customers are bound to question her reasons for selling the business. But Phillips said her decision was straight forward—she wants to lighten her workload to have the chance to travel more with her husband, who retired three years ago. She said their son and daughter-in-law are expecting a new baby next month and that they want to be able to travel to Florida to see them as much as possible.
“I’d love to be down there for a couple months during the winter,” Phillips said. “With that news, we decided it was time to pursue [a sale].”
Natural Mercantile has been on the market for a few weeks and already, Phillips said she’s heard interest from three people. She said that while she’s ordering less and less products in anticipation for a sale soon, she’s hoping that whoever purchases the store will continue the business. She said that would allow her and her neighbors the opportunity to continue their grocery shopping in town.
“I’d love to see the store continue,” she said.
Natural Mercantile is open 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday and closed on Sunday.