Friday, November 23, 2012

J-Vee Health Foods Store To Close After 47 Years

Above: J-Vee Health Foods on Pacific Avenue in Lacey is closing its doors on November 30 after 47 years in business.

J-Vee Health Foods Store To Close After 47 Years

by Janine Unsoeld

While thousands of shoppers made the mad dash to big-box stores in South Sound Center on this Black Friday, local business J-Vee Health Foods quietly welcomed a few long time, loyal customers who stopped by to make a few purchases, and say goodbye.

J-Vee Health Foods' last day will be November 30, after 47 years in business. It's the end of an era for a business that borders those big-box stores, near the Olympia-Lacey city line at 3720 Pacific Avenue.

Tricia Brassfield, the daughter of J-Vee's owners Tom and Yvonne Stabno, greeted a steady stream of customers today.

Everything is currently 40% off, with a wide selection of popular health care and vitamin products such as Paul Stamets' line of Host Defense products, including Turkey Tail, which regularly retails for well over $20 a bottle; Boiron brand homeopathic products, including a wide selection of blue tubes; vitamin supplements; bulk Frontier herbs and spices; and more.

In between customers, Brassfield took the time to talk about what the store means to her and her family.

Her father suffered a massive stroke three years ago tomorrow. Her mother has been Tom's fulltime caregiver ever since. "Mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially, mom is drained," said Brassfield.

Her parents bought the store in 1965 from Joe and Virginia Mugartegui, which is why the store is named J-Vee. She said her mother worked for them back when there was just a lunch counter in the back corner of the store. The store sold vitamins and grocery items. Over the years, as competition for similar products has grown, business has dwindled. When asked for other reasons why the store is closing, Brassfield admitted that "advertising wasn't in the budget."

"Also, a lot of our loyal customers were elderly, and have died, and the younger ones say, 'I can get it cheaper online,'" said Brassfield.

Brassfield says she's not sure what she's going to do next. "A lot of us don't know anything different. There's six of us. Jody, who works in the restaurant, has been with us 28 years." Brassfield says she has applied for several state jobs but may work as a bartista for a friend's business.

A customer, Nathan, comes in, greets Brassfield, and leaves with a couple bags of flax seed for $2.13. He said he's been coming for a couple years and really likes their sandwiches.

Another customer, Marybeth, comes in and leaves with sea salt and other products for a total of $17.84. "I'm so sad you're closing," she said to Brassfield as she paid for her purchases.

Other customers, including a three generation family, came in to see if Brassfield had any souvenirs for sale that may say J-Vee Health Foods on it.

"Hi Sue!" Brassfield warmly greeted one of the women as they came in. Unfortunately, she had no souvenirs.

After this family left, Brassfield told me that the boys always get milk shakes and chicken salad sandwiches when they come in. That explains why one of the boys was begging to buy the industrial sized milk shake machine.

The restaurant, which was closed today, will be open on Monday. The store has a cozy, warm homemade soup smell that many will keep in their memories.

Some things are not for sale. Memories, long-time relationships, and one original store sign created out of wood many years ago by a customer, Brassfield will keep.

Ironically, I encountered one of the customers a short time later who had stopped into J-Vee's with two other men, at the Eastside Olympia Food Co-op, also on Pacific Avenue. They had left J-Vee's with no purchases because Brassfield didn't have what they usually get there. Leaving the Co-op, Phil Murr said he's been going to J-Vee's since the 1980s. "In winter, I always stocked up on my Vitamin C and in fall, I stocked up on my Mill Creek shampoo." Now, with a big bottle of Nature's Plus Vitamin C tablets in his hand, he's taken his business to another local store.

A Conversation with Olympia Business Pioneer Virginia Mugartegui

Virginia Mugartegui, 88, contacted by phone tonight, was only too happy to talk about the early days of J-Vee Health Foods.

"We started in the South Sound Mall, and outgrew the place. We wanted to move to another location, but they said we weren't a real business. They thought we were a make-believe business, I guess. A lot of people didn't believe in health food back then. Friends of mine in Tacoma used to say 'quack-quack-quack' and doctors wanted nothing to do with alternative medicine."

"So, the building on Pacific Avenue was built for us....there used to be a house there. At first we had a gift shop up front, then, after a couple years, we put in the restaurant."

I asked her why she started the business.

"I had headaches, and didn't feel well. I was 40 years old. Then I read a book by Adelle Davis - there was a chapter in there that fit me to a "T" so I got interested in health food. The first thing I did was go down to California and asked a popular health food store there if they would give me a discount on vitamins. And they did!"

"Yvonne worked for me for 18 years - she was a friend of my daughter's. Joe and I also had J-Vee II on Capitol Boulevard in Tumwater by the brewery, across from the ice cream shop. We renamed it Smart Nutrition. We had both for several years but Joe and I felt it was too much so we sold J-Vee's to Yvonne. Yvonne was wonderful - I love her dearly."

Joe passed away in late 2009 and Smart Nutrition closed in 2010. "I couldn't do it anymore - I was just getting too dang old, and there was competition."

Asked who she thinks is the competition, Virginia commented, "Well, Super Supplements offers such big discounts you can't even begin to sell them for that amount. It's very difficult to compete with that."

Above: A Sign of The Times - the original wooden sign for J-Vee Health Foods store.
Editor's Note: When I arrived in Olympia in 1982, I remember my friend Mary taking me to J-Vee's to buy cruelty-free cosmetics. It's where I bought my very first lipstick. Why, I don't know, since I was going to go to Evergreen. Anyways, I distinctly remember the smell of homemade soup permeating throughout the building, and it smelled exactly the same when I walked in today....Ymmm....