About a week before it opens, the scene inside Natural Grocers is a flurry of people unpacking cardboard boxes and loading shelves. Chad Johnson, the store’s mustached and bespectacled 34-year-old manager, who’s training a new hire how to use the cash registers, reluctantly breaks for a quick interview, but can’t escape the commotion. “There’s no quiet spot,” he says. “We’re opening a store.”
Natural Grocers, a Colorado-based organic grocery chain, opens its Missoula location on the corner of Third and Reserve streets in Missoula on Oct. 30. The store marks the chain’s 60th location and aims to tap into the Garden City’s seemingly insatiable appetite for organic foods. “There’s a huge buzz for it,” Johnson says. “We’re just really excited to be in Missoula, and to offer awesome products and solid jobs.”
He says he interviewed about 50 people at Missoula Job Service for positions at the new store, and hired 25 full-time employees. Right now they’re being ordered around by Natural Grocers’ “ops team,” as Johnson calls it, a squad that gets new locations around the country from empty to open in about two weeks. The ops team oversees every detail, down to the exact height of each adjustable supermarket shelf. “That’s how dialed they are,” he says.
Natural Grocers by Vitamin Cottage, as the chain is officially called, was attracted to the Missoula market because it’s been “an epicenter of active and healthy lifestyles,” said company co-president Kemper Isely in a statement. “Our new store product offerings and outreach programs fit perfectly with the city’s culture, residents and visitors.”
The company opened its first Montana store in June, in Billings, and plans to open a third, in Helena, in December.
The Missoula location’s just a mile down Third Street from the Good Food Store, the city’s well-established independent organic grocer. Asked if he’s concerned about the competition, Good Food Store spokesman Layne Rolston says, “Not so much.”
“We’ve always felt like the more [businesses] that are celebrating organic and getting organic food in front of people the better,” Rolston says. “That’s what we’re about, too. And we think there’s probably room for more than one or two or three people selling organic food in Missoula.”
Inside Natural Grocers, Johnson takes a more competitive tack. “We’ll open up and let our prices talk for us,” he says.