July 13, 2020
With over 7 million visitors annually, Branson, MO is buzzing with life. The ever-growing community continues to be a travel destination for families around the country, offering live entertainment, award-winning theme parks and as much shopping as you can handle.
It is here in the heart of the Ozarks that Chris and Michelle Rost decided to open their second natural grocery store, Nature’s Wonders, specializing in supplements, herbs, and organic groceries in Branson. If the name sounds familiar, you’ve probably shopped at the power couple’s original storefront that still operates out of Harrison, AR.
The beginning of Nature’s Wonders started in 1994, with Chris’s grandparents. His grandmother lived in California for a while but is originally from Iowa and fell in love with the Boston Mountains on her drives back home to visit family. It was the geography that caught her eye and her heart. So, she and her husband eventually bought a farm and settled in Harrison. Chris’s grandmother was a vegetarian way before it was a common practice. She befriended the owner of Gaither Mountain Health Food and some years later purchased the business and the property.
His father worked in the health food scene in California for a while too, but Chris was born and grew up in Harrison. “When I was young, my parents always worked hard. I was taught how to work hard too,” says Chris.
As Nature’s Wonders grew in size, so too did Chris’s desire to play a bigger part in the family business. He met his wife Michelle, and they both integrated into the independently owned natural foods store that his father and grandfather had fostered.
“People can have nice things, but you have to work for those things ya know?” Chris echoes the sentiment that is the American Dream. “Start small, you’ll never end small.”
The idea of a second location had been a family thought for 10 years, but the concept was put into construction just 3 years ago. The Nature’s Wonders grocery store in Branson, MO had their soft open on March 16th, and about a week later the country shutdown. Covid-19 had taken the states by storm. But because their business was essential, the store remained open.
One of our own got to visit with Chris and his staff in person, and asked him what he thought about the current state of the natural grocers’ industry. Chris offered insight to how he’s operated under these bizarre conditions and his positive outlook:
“The country’s response to the virus has opened up peoples’ eyes about what taking care of themselves can look like. It has brought families home to eat. We’ve never seen at-home cooking blow up like this. You’re not gonna believe this, but we ran out of flour!”
"Never in our store’s history have we ever sold out of flour…until now. There’s a whole movement of people picking up great cooking skills [while] at home. For the time to come, that will make our industry strong,” says Chris, optimistic about the future.
Chris and Michelle were able to navigate the uncertain market with confidence in light of the virus. The Branson store is in capable hands. Among their excellent staff is Lesli Gilmer, a woman with 10 years in the nutritional products space. She moved over to the Branson location after working the Harrison store for the past year. As Director of Purchasing and the Wellness Advisor for Nature’s Wonders, she is equipped to handle the surge of customers looking for immune products.
In the beginning when the situation was very unpredictable, Norm’s Farms steadily supplied Nature’s Wonders with the elderberry supplements they needed for their customers. And despite the recent shortage of elderberry in the market, Norm’s Farms continues to meet the needs of Nature’s Wonders and other customers across the country.
Many grocery stores have seen lighter foot traffic but higher payouts. Smaller amounts of customers are coming into the store but their making larger purchases, Lesli observed. “At least, [it was] in the beginning of all this. Now things are starting to return to normal…Product purchases have slowed down [because it’s the middle of summer] and while we were expecting that, we’re actually seeing less of a decrease with the effect of coronavirus,” said Lesli. “I’m just glad to be working at Nature’s Wonders in Branson. It’s the customers that make this job rewarding. I really enjoy my job, and I really enjoy the people we serve.”
As the situation in our country is still changing, Nature’s Wonders hasn’t had a true open-house yet. But when they do, you can guarantee Norm’s Farms will be there to serve you up some elderberry. Be well, friends!
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