A look back at 32 years of history, place, and Rebecca’s culture

In honor of our 32nd anniversary, we’re celebrating with a look at Rebecca’s Natural Food, including our ethos, history, and place in our beloved community of Charlottesville as well as some personal stories from over the years.

What IS Rebecca’s Natural Food?

What will you find at Rebecca’s Natural Food? The first steps on your road to holistic health maintenance and care. You will find the highest quality, cutting edge products coupled with a knowledgeable staff experienced with the natural lifestyle. Finally, we are a community meeting place who carries, has introduced, and is loyal to many locally grown and produced products.

Rebecca’s is an early and successful example of the independent natural food store. We recognized our role as the entry point for new ideas and the products that exemplify and/or are driven by those ideas. In response to the changing landscape of natural foods and natural products and their wide availability, we honed our procedures regarding finding and assessing the quality of new products. This is in order to remain at the forefront of the migration of products toward more conventional channels.

Our history:

When Normal Dill, owner of Rebecca’s and an Albemarle County supervisor, first opened Rebecca’s in 1987, he made sure Rebecca’s was built on natural partnerships and a forward-thinking foundation.

Inspired by his mother’s penchant for eating well and making conscious, healthy choices, Norman started his health food store journey in 1976 working in Charlottesville’s Blue Mountain Natural Foods. Prompted by this experience, he returned to his hometown in upstate New York to open his own store, Earthlight Foods, which remains in business today. More than a decade later, Norman felt the siren call of Charlottesville and returned to open Rebecca’s Natural Food. The store is named after his daughter, and the rest is history.

Rebecca’s has extraordinary employee longevity and loyalty, it’s really a family! Many of our staff members have been with Rebecca’s for more than 5 years, and several for 10 years and longer. All provide a great depth of knowledge and care. Nutrition Information Specialist, Susan Dunlap, has helped people at Rebecca’s since 1989 and Store Co-Managers & Buyers, Bill Calvani (2001) and Brandon Davis (1996) curate the store’s products and overall vibe. Contributing to this longevity is the store culture, access to products that fit the pursuit of a natural lifestyle, and the pursuit of the right lifestyle. Only by living this way ourselves can we assist others on their health journeys.

Rebecca’s Natural Food over the years (here we get personal):

Over the years together we’ve learned and shared our knowledge side-by-side.  We’ve welcomed staff and customers from all generations and backgrounds to find a place to gain and share information on their healthy lifestyle journeys. We remember transmitting orders on a hefty handheld scanner by strapping it to the corded handset of the “old” landline phones. We’ve become space wizards as we’ve rearranged the store to fit a fantastic selection of the best truly natural and clean foods, body care items, supplements, and beverages. Research is our middle name and we are believers in both science and personal testimony. We continue our education with Annual Herb Conferences, Natural Products Expos, Independent Natural Retailer Association Conventions, and local talks and classes to stay up to date on the best innovations and products for our community. We dig deep to find exceptional items to offer in our store and use personally. We laugh at the Record Album names that Bill comes up with from product names merged with pieces of daily conversations. We party together at the holidays and share our lives with each other and our customers. We eat the foods we carry at Rebecca’s, use the body care products, wear the fair trade accessories, and take our supplements. We walk the walk. We embrace each other’s strengths and support each other as we learn new things. We learn, care, and feel as though we make a difference in our community.

A look back through staff stories

We’ve experienced dramatic changes in our industry and our world. On a personal note, one anecdote that clearly comes to mind is 9/11/2001. Some of our current staff were not born yet or were too young to remember 9/11.  Susan, KeriAn, and Brandon were all working at Rebecca’s that morning when a friend called and told us about the Twin Towers and Pentagon. Of course, this was 2001 so internet was vastly different and there were no smartphones. We found out our information slowly through the day and obviously it was all customers and staff were talking about. We knew that the world was about to change forever from these events and were glad to have our work family close. Several of us are originally from the New York area and knew people who worked in the Twin Towers and later found out they died. It was probably our most intense day as a work family and solidified our bond. Closer to home on August 12, 2017, several of the Rebecca’s staff witnessed or were close to the tragic accident that took Heather Heyer’s life and injured many others on C’ville’s Downtown Mall. Healing personally and as a community is ongoing. However, we’ve also turned natural disasters like earthquakes and hurricanes into impromptu parties….

As told through the words of our very own Bill Calvani:
Such as one incident some nine years ago. Charlottesville was descended upon by dark forces. After it arrived and had its way with the town, it’s two names still hung like raindrops from people’s lips. One name made it sound exotic, like a handsome stranger from foreign lands, the other describing it’s arrival and effect. The names were “Derecho” and “Microburst.”

We have new people come in all the time, to see what we are about or because it has been recommended to them that if no one else has it we might. We have customers we have known for years. We have daily shoppers who we consider part of the family community we share here at Rebecca’s.

We also have many customers that interact with the store in unusual ways. One, whom I will call Storm Crone, typically begins raising the alarm for inclement weather about three days out, and the day of the event might begin an hour by hour update.

Without this apocalyptic sentinel of our safety, we can guess something is up. People come in droves to buy bread, milk and toilet paper, all required items for said Apocalypse.

This time there was no warning.

A regular day was unfolding. Customers variously shopped and spoke with employees. A visit to put some cardboard in the recycling dumpster behind the store revealed a roiling darkness in the West. I (Bill) gazed skyward. Tinged with sick greens and liver browns, the sky seemed to be coming down with something.

The front windows of the store face East, allowing natural light to illuminate the store. I was sitting at the desk in the center of the store when I looked up, noticing a dimming of the light. The power went out. Others did too as it grew rapidly darker. We all rushed to the front windows, then backed up as the tidal wave of wind and rain overwhelmed us. We locked the doors to keep them from swinging.

We watched as the wind carefully and seemingly in slow motion carved off the branches of a tree, bundled them together and dumped them onto a car in the lot. The woman next to me, a regular customer, full basket in hand, a look of quiet resignation in her face and posture, a sound of defeat in her voice: “That was my car.”

“Let’s open some bottles of wine. “ I said. Someone ran to the back to get wine glasses from the tasting area. We opened, I remember several bottles of an excellent and cheap Biodynamic Sangiovese and something French. Within a few minutes, we had a veritable party happening, people mingling with the verve that only wine and disaster can bring.

These are just a couple of the real life happenings that Rebecca’s has held space for over the years…

We have lots of funny and poignant stories that make up the fabric of Rebecca’s over the past 32 years,  We’d love to hear a Rebecca’s story from you! If you have one, please add it to the comment section below.

Thanks for 32 incredible years, and here’s to 32 more!