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When Katy Lesser bought Healthy Living Natural Foods Market in 1986, it was what the company refers to as a "baby," with only 1,200 square feet. On a good day of business, it saw about 25 customers.

Today, Ms. Lesser's son, Eli Lesser-Goldsmith, and her daughter, Nina Lesser- Goldsmith, are her partners in what has evolved into a highly successful operation that is located in South Burlington, VT.

Mr. Lesser-Goldsmith told The Produce News that the store went through a few evolutions over the years that spurred its development into what is now a 33,000-square-foot retail, deli, catering operation and learning center.

“The store has moved three times to accommodate our growth,” he said. “We moved to our current location in 2007, and we’ve been happily playing store ever since. We are Vermont’s largest and most comprehensive natural food store, and we take pride in selling locally grown, organic and natural foods.”

Healthy Living is a fully stocked retail operation, with all of the departments that large chain stores have, such as body care, foliage and vitamin and herb departments. Its popular delicatessen and café caters to eat-in or take-out clientele, and its catering department services events of all types. The learning center helps to educate community patrons and their children about all things having to do with food and sustainability.

Mr. Lesser-Goldsmith said that while the store has expanded tremendously over the years, its conviction always to represent high-quality, nutritious foods has remained steadfast.

“I’ve been working in the store since I was eight years old,” said Mr. Lesser- Goldsmith, 33. “And I know that our high-quality fresh produce selection has always set us apart from other stores. We wanted to be the first to sell local produce, and we were at the forefront of the movement. Supporting small, local growers has and always will be of paramount importance to us.”

Mr. Lesser-Goldsmith added that the company has always considered conscience and good social values a prerequisite for its sources.

“We want to know about the farmers who produce the food we sell,” he said. “It’s important for us to know about their lifestyles and if they are being exploited. To us, fair trade practices are an important aspect in our produce procuring and selling decisions.”

Healthy Living Market is also strongly committed to community. It is involved in outreach programs and local organic agriculture, and it provides jobs to nearly 100 local people. Combined with excellent customer service, the company has a winning combination for success.

Once past the attractive entrance adorned with plant displays, the first thing a customer sees is the produce department, which is kept freshly stocked by the store’s seven-day-a-week deliveries.

“What we sell an abundance of often has to do with seasonality,” said Mr. Lesser-Goldsmith. “We are selling a lot of local apples currently as Northeastern crops are in abundance. As we near Thanksgiving, we’ll move more cranberries than you’d think possible. But as a fully stocked produce department, we also offer fruits and vegetables from around the world.”

The company’s web site (healthylivingmarket.com) helps to keep customers updated on what the store is offering at all times. It also features a Produce Tip of the Week, which informs people about where the produce item is from, and provides storage and handling tips as well as suggestions for preparation.

Healthy Living Market offers a full catering service, and it’s called on to provide food for events of all types. Mr. Lesser-Goldsmith said that it does a lot of corporate events in addition to private functions such as weddings and anniversaries.

Nina Lesser-Goldsmith joined the company a couple of years ago and is in charge of the Learning Center, where people can join a cooking class or attend a lecture focusing on health and nutrition, environment, sustainability or food products.

“We carved out 1,500 square feet for the Learning Center,” said Mr. Lesser- Goldsmith. “We feel education is a huge link to what customers buy. This is a highly socially conscious area, and people are very into their bodies. They want to know as much as possible about health and nutrition as well as sustainability and the environment.”

Ms. Lesser-Goldsmith also creates the recipes offered in the store and on the web site. She schedules lectures that are exciting and interesting, and organizes and conducts the cooking classes. In addition to hands-on and group demonstration cooking classes, she also offers private sessions.

Healthy Living Market even hosts childrens’ birthday parties, and it invites schools to organize field trips where students can visit the market and learn about how and where the food products they eat are produced.

Ms. Lesser continues to be active in operating the store with the help of her son and daughter. She was named 2010 Vermont Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration.