Thursday, January 15, 2015

Exploitation Leads to Closure of Local Health Store

(From the January 15, 2015 issue of the Grand Haven Tribune)

We had visited three or four times, well within normal business hours, and found the doors locked. There was no note on the door, and no evidence of anything unusual other than the locked door. We knew something was wrong.

We had come to know the owner, so we tracked down her son at the place where he works. He confirmed our fears: Lakeshore Natural Health had closed.

We later spoke to the owner. We have gotten to know her over the past several years as regular customers. We talked to her on her cell phone. As it turns out, she had to file bankruptcy because she just wasn’t selling enough product. It’s not that she didn’t have a lot people in the store. But there were two problems. She had a lot of issues with shoplifting. The other problem was another form of theft in my opinion. People would come in and listen to her advice for free and then go buy product online or at a lower price at a larger chain store.

The problem for us is that many of the things she sold at Lakeshore Natural Health are not easily available elsewhere. Since my wife’s cancer diagnosis we have combined conventional medical treatments with natural supplements that we believe have contributed to preventing a recurrence of cancer and mitigating the side-effects of other treatments.

Lakeshore Natural Health was a one-of-a-kind place, and now it’s gone. It was unique not just because of the products, but the owner. We would talk for a long time during almost every visit. Jyl would not only direct us to the appropriate supplement, but explain in great detail why it was appropriate, how it worked, where it had been tested, how others have proven it works, and so on. She has a degree and years of experience that contribute to her encyclopedic knowledge of medicine and natural supplements. But the best part of the store was her genuine desire to help people.

And that’s what saddens us the most. It would be one thing if the store just didn’t make it financially. But this store went under because people exploited a good woman’s knowledge and compassion. There were tears on the phone when we talked to her that day. There had been tears between us when we talked about my wife’s medical condition, and promises of prayer. Now we promise to pray that she will find a new way to make a living.

I wonder about the people who used to stop by and just ask questions about a medical situation they were experiencing, and then walk out with free knowledge and a plan to save a few dollars at another store. Did they not consider that their selfish behavior writ large would have such a consequence? Of course unique local businesses have to charge a bit more for product. That’s because they don’t have the economies of scale that are an advantage for large chain retailers. But local stores offer more value too. They may have unique products or specialty brands. But mostly they have people who offer special and unique service, like Jyl did. So the people who saved a few bucks on product now have caused all of us to lose a very special and helpful service.

It’s the same phenomenon in all businesses. Consider going to the local hardware store verses Home Depot. Or buying a book at the Bookman as opposed to Barnes and Noble or online. The personal relationship, the assistance to the local economy, the special service are all part of the mix that give greater value that more than covers the price of the product.

We considered Jyl to be part of my wife’s “medical team.” Various doctors have various specialties, and gave great advice and treatment. Jyl did the same with regard to natural supplements. It is too bad our medical system does not have more respect for what she knows and does. It’s too bad that so many members our community did not have more respect also. If they had, Jyl would still be in business, and we would all have a great resource.

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