Barry and Chenue Gill close health food store after 25 years

A natural time to stop
2010-02-10T00:00:00Z Barry and Chenue Gill close health food store after 25 yearsBy MIKE TRELEVEN Register Staff Writer Napa Valley Register
February 10, 2010 12:00 am  • 

After serving health-conscious shoppers for nearly 25 years, Optimum Natural Foods in north Napa is closing its doors.

Owners Barry Gill, a former Napa City Councilman and longtime public school teacher, and his wife, Chenue Gill, are closing the store in Silverado Plaza Shopping Center on Feb. 28. A sign in the window tells passersby that everything must go.

“For us, 25 years has been a good run,” Chenue Gill said.

Their store is one of the oldest tenants in the north Napa shopping center where Trancas Street meets Big Ranch Road and Soscol Avenue.

Chenue — with a masters degree in business administration — joined the retail business as Barry Gill’s partner — and nine months later they married. “He is my soul mate,” she said.

The couple said their customers and vendors have been an inspiration to them throughout the years.

Why are they closing now?

Blame corporate America for jumping on board the health food movement — elbowing out mom-and-pop-owned businesses. Independently operated natural food stores are going the way of the old-fashion hardware store, Chenue Gill said.

“We used to go to the trade shows and talk directly to the owners,” Barry Gill said. “That isn’t the case any more.

“Things started to change about five years ago,” Barry Gill, 88, said. “Some of our customers say we did our job too well.”

Chenue Gill, 65, said independent health foods stores have a future because customers want to talk to someone who knows the products well.

The Gills and their employees will hold an old-fashioned Irish wake for the store on its anniversary, April 1. “We have people who have been with us for nearly 16, 17 years,” Chenue Gill said.

Barry Gill decided to open Optimum Natural Foods after spending 31 years teaching English, first at Ridgeview Junior High, then Napa and Vintage high schools. He served on Napa City Council for six years during the 1960s.

He used his teacher’s retirement pay to start the natural foods store, without prior retail experience.

“We get people coming in to the store who were my students and now they are customers,” he said.

Chenue Gill said one of Barry Gill’s teaching colleagues had a theory for us his business success. “If Barry jumped off a cliff,” she recounted the teacher saying, “the angels would catch him.”

So what is in the future for the Gills? She wants to get involved in another project, but is not quite sure what she wants to do.

“I want Barry to write a book,” Chenue Gill said. “A book of poetry. He is quite the poet.”

Barry Gill said he might write a book about life and the wisdom that he has gained over the years. Of growing older, he said, “It’s better than I expected. I just go with the flow.”

“Maybe I’ll have to go out and look for another job,” he said smiling.

Copyright 2015 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(6) Comments

  1. Hear Ye
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    Hear Ye - February 10, 2010 12:18 am
    It's sad to see the store go. They had some great products that are hard to find at other health spots in town. Best of luck to the Gills.
  2. littlered56
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    littlered56 - February 10, 2010 12:36 am
    Oh my! What a wonderful teacher you are Mr. Gill. Both my children were in your classes, they loved you. You got them to think..and think and to love reading. They learned from you and they respected you. My son came home one day and told me He thought you were so cool..He told me he looked up to you..because you never looked down at him or any other kid.
    I hope ypu do write the book
    Thank You Mr. Gill for the all you have given to so many.
  3. littlered56
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    littlered56 - February 10, 2010 8:18 am
    Dan Ross
    is there a way I can send Mr. gill a personal note with out it being shown to everyone.???.I want to send him my sons site so he can see what he has made of his life
  4. dellasumbrella
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    dellasumbrella - February 10, 2010 9:54 am
    What a great testament from littlered for Mr. Gill!

    Well, I'm sad. I really liked the convenience of the store, and the knowledge of its proprietors, and the fact that I could get those unusual products that showed up in natural healing books.

    I'm curious to know what the subject matter of the potential book might be.
  5. R K Savage
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    R K Savage - February 10, 2010 4:50 pm
    Mr. Gill was the coolest teacher at Napa high. I went to school with Jeremy and Mary. I remember going to parties at the Gills hous. They were the greatest. Barry, I hope you do write your book. Best of Luck on this newest chapter in your Life
  6. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - February 10, 2010 11:38 pm
    I shopped at this store. The owners were the nicest people. Sad to see them go. Sad to see that the corporate world is taking over just about everything. Not too many mom and pop stores left anymore.
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