On Saratoga Road in Glenville, sun splashes through the front window of Eileen Curwen’s shop and nurtures pots of lavender, aloe and eucalyptus lined up on the windowsill.
“I love herbs. That’s one of the things that got me into the business,” Curwen says.
That business is Basic Foods, one of the oldest natural foods stores in the Capital Region, which opened in 1976, the same year as Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany. Basic Foods will be 40 years old in October.
Norma Rice started Basic Foods, which for many years was across from Hewitt’s and the old Glenville fire station. Fifteen years ago, the store moved a mile north to its present location in a small plaza.
In 2014, when Rice retired, Curwen, who had been working there for 13 years, decided to buy the business, which is now called Eileen’s Basic Foods.
Baby Boomers in Glenville and neighboring areas “grew up with this store” and now people seem to be even more aware of their health, Curwen says.
“I have a big customer base, from young to elderly. Young parents come in with their kids. People want to live healthier. And they want to enjoy their health in their older years.”
Clad in a denim shirt and a green apron, Curwen begins her tour of the 1,250-square-foot shop near the front door and a long wall of 250 herbs and spices that is neatly arranged alphabetically, from organic whole allspice, anise seed and birch bark to powdered wheat grass and Madagascar vanilla beans.
Shoppers buy them by the ounce or by the pound.
“I weigh it up in a bag or you can bring your own jar,” she says.
The shop has five aisles of packaged foods, cosmetics, vitamins, herbal and homeopathic remedies. There’s also a section of natural cleaning products, a freezer with gluten-free foods and locally raised meats and a large refrigerated case containing fruits, nuts and flour.
“This is a natural foods store. No artificial flavors or colors,” she says, pointing to all-natural Easter egg coloring kit.
Sweeping the floor occasionally with a broom as she walks along, Curwen describes the first aisle as “the traditional foods you find in a health food store,” like dried beans, grains, legumes, dried fruit and 15 brands of tea.
Near the checkout desk, shelves are stacked with New York-made products, including Glenville honey and Burnt Hills jams.
Basic Foods sells milk from Meadowbrook Farms Dairy in Albany County, and every Friday, Saratoga Gluten Free Goods delivers fresh baked goods.
“The store has always focused on local products,” Curwen says.
Customers looking for fresh organic produce can sign up for a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) delivery with the 164-acre Denison Farm in Schaghticoke. During the growing season, veggie orders are delivered right to the store. Last month, the farm started bringing fresh spring greens.
“I brought in a lot of new products. It was time for a change,” she says.
The layout was also changed to create a more open atmosphere.
But the store’s dedication to customer service has not changed.
“I just love to help customers find what they are looking for. I’ll walk you right to where you’re going. I’m happy to do that. I have a mission to provide healthy alternatives to mainstream food. I want them to find what they want to find.”
She can also answer questions about herbs and gluten-free cooking.
“I’ve studied herbs medicinally for years. I use homeopathy and herbs. From the time I was in college, I’ve been into natural foods and medicines.”
Curwen grew up outside Pittsburgh. The mother of three grown children, she moved to this area 30 years ago and lives with her husband in Galway, where she grows herbs and other plants.
“I like to hike, garden. I love to cook,” she says.
Running the store is hard work but the real challenge is the Internet.
“My biggest competitor is the Internet and there’s nothing I can do about it,” she says, explaining how it’s not unusual for people to walk in, check out a product and then tell her that they are going to buy it online.
“Shopping local makes all the difference to everyone, not just the retailer. It keeps the community alive. We all work together. I just want to say ‘thank you’ to all of my customers, to Glenville, to my friends and family.”
Reach Gazette reporter Karen Bjornland at 395-3197, [email protected] or on Twitter @bjorngazette.