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Mary Cervantes

Mary Cervantes is a columnist for the Napa Valley Register.

A self-proclaimed roustabout, Nature Select owner John Palmer’s work history is rather eclectic: teacher, owner of a wholesale bakery, real estate, and a wine business.

After 10 years in the wine business, John, a sixth generation resident of St. Helena, started looking for other possibilities.

The stars aligned when one day in 2016 while shopping in Nature Select. St. Helena’s Nature Select Foods is located at the corner of Main and Pope streets.

John’s wife mentioned to owner, Ivo Matijaca, about John looking for a change. Ready to retire, Ivo contacted John and convinced him to take over the store.

Fast forward three years and Nature Select is still the go-to place for locals to purchase health products. Recently, Laura Lehman opened The Juice Bar St. Helena within the store.

“Coming into an established business is tricky to begin with. People have their favorites and they don’t want things to change. It’s a challenge to be sensitive to that, but in retail you have to change and adapt, especially a bricks and mortar establishment,” said John.

“When people come in, I want them to feel relaxed and calm. The music we play is soothing, either classical or jazz. You smell aromas selected for our diffuser and pressed fresh fruit and vegetables from the juice bar. It’s all those things, but most importantly, it’s about the consumer, and doing right by them.”

John studied philosophy in college and takes a philosophical approach to retail.

“I‘ve always studied things like, ‘what’s a just price and just wage.’ I hope to always pay my employees a decent wage. The answer to a just price is not what you can get, but is it a reasonable profit,” said John.

“You have to think about the consumer. Most importantly, it’s my community. I’m constantly thinking about, ‘Am I delivering the right product at the right price?’ The retail business is working out all these things.”

The Napa-Sonoma SBDC met John after the October 2017 wildfires. In 2018, the SBDC partnered with the Napa Valley Community Foundation and Working Solutions to provide grants to small businesses impacted by the fires and declined an SBA disaster loan. For Nature Select, the funds helped John catch up.

“Those two weeks created quite a dent in our sales, said John. “The grant money helped us to balance right out. Once you fall behind, it’s difficult to catch up.”

With a deep appreciation and connection to his community, John does not want to sell people products they don’t need or create a pressured retail environment. He cares about his customer’s health and doing what’s right for them.

“My larger competitors have a quota to fill. They want to see the upsell and the baskets full,” says John. “That’s not appropriate for the customer’s health.”

Nature Select and The Juice Bar St. Helena are located at 1080 Main St. in St. Helena.

The Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center (SBDC) provides expert no-cost advising and low cost business workshops in English and Spanish. Call 707-256-7250 or go to napasonomasbdc.org to make an appointment.

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Mary Cervantes is the business services director for Napa Valley College Napa-Sonoma Small Business Development Center. Reach her at 256-7253 or mcervantes@napavalley.edu

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