By Kathy Dean
It was 40 years ago, in October of 1974, that Sevananda Natural Foods Market was begun by a small group of dedicated founders. Their vision has evolved to become much more than a natural foods grocery store; it’s now Atlanta’s trusted resource of health and wellness, not to mention a mainstay of the Little Five Points neighborhood.
One of the largest natural food co-ops in the Southeast, Sevananda may also be the only strictly vegetarian/vegan grocery store on the East Coast. The secret to the market’s success is found in its name. The word Sevananda is derived from two Sanskrit words: Seva, meaning service, and Ananda, meaning joy or bliss, to form “The Joy of Service.”
Kay Rosenblum and her husband joined Sevananda in 1979. She described herself as a dedicated shopper and past board member, and said, “This year I turned 60. The fact that I feel great, I attribute to Sevananda. I come in the door and I feel good.”
Sevananda is owned and operated by its members, and does a lot more than offer a source of healthy, local and organic foods to the community. It also strives to live up to its triple bottom line philosophy of economic, environmental and social responsibility. Some of the ways Sevananda does that is by supporting local farmers, partnering with community organizations and informing customers of changes in legislation regarding food safety and security.
Rosenblum stressed that it’s important for everyone to know that Sevananda belongs to anyone who comes in the door. “You don’t have to be an owner-member to shop here. Sevananda is here to help you in every way it can. If you’re searching for a way to improve your diet and own your health, sooner or later you’ll find your way to Sevananda.”
For over 20 years, Greta Thomas has been a part of Sevananda, and is now a working owner in the wellness department. She was originally drawn to the market by the availability of the natural health food, and by the friendly and knowledgeable staff. “Sevananda is a co-op, and that’s a breath of fresh air in this age of giant conglomerates,” she said. “It’s a real health food store that serves the community.”
The importance of Sevananda is clear, as Ahzjah Netjer Simons, the current board president and an 11-year Sevananda member-owner, explained. “As big agriculture and big pharmacy businesses ramp up their efforts to have the world become more dependent on them, Sevananda will play a key role in offering options to those who wish to take back their power and own their health and their choice in the matter.”
Many co-ops were begun in the 1960’s and 70’s, but few have survived into the new millennium. Sevananda General Manager Gary Hilliard claimed that the store’s success is tied into its cooperative set up and food integrity. “Being a co-op, we have to listen to the member owners and they add valuable input.”
Like any long-lived entity, Sevananda has had to contend with challenges. Since it’s community owned, there are many different opinions and member meetings can get feisty. In 2013, some members picketed the store over disagreement within the co-op. Management has been ineffective at times, and now, the co-op is working to overcome some poor business practices of the past.
Hilliard added that Sevananda has triumphed over fierce competition, board battles and financial limitations. “The current challenge is that we’re not the only game in town anymore, so we have to contend with pricing wars from the corporate entities that have jumped on the health food bandwagon.”
Competition and challenges, however, are no match for the real strength of Sevananda – its human element. Simons said that, in her opinion, what has kept Sevananda alive over the years is the people. “Through good times and bad, the people are resilient and they understand how important Sevananda’s existence really is. The staff and owners are authentic human beings who strive to live what they believe and have a passion to help others.”
The 40th Anniversary Celebration
Sevananda will honor its members and patrons with a day of celebration and appreciation on Oct. 25 from noon to 5 p.m. at the market, 467 Moreland Ave. Festivities will take place in the store and parking lot.There will be vegetarian hot dogs and hamburgers, games, clowns, face painting, entertainment and craft vendors. The co-op will also host guest speakers and a wellness spa downstairs in the Community Room, where practitioners will offer massages, reflexology, reiki and other modalities. Call Sevananda at (404) 681-2831 for more information or visit sevananda.coop.