In 1986, with absolutely no knowledge of business, I bought a tiny one-year-old market located in the Blue Mall, Dorset Street, South Burlington, Vermont. I had been an English teacher, a psychotherapist, a mother… so why not “branch out” into the world of groceries and business ownership? (Looking back, it seems crazy!) Those first few (like 10) years were difficult and rocky for me. But my passion for food, community, and the mysteries of business drove me on, and seven years later I doubled the size of the store to 2,400 square feet. A few years later I made the big move around the corner to 4 Market Street, where I bravely took on 5,000 square feet, and seven years later took on an additional 2,500, making our store a whopping 8,000 square feet when you included our little upstairs mezzanine. That mezzanine housed our offices where 30 or so of us worked in cramped quarters, fighting over desks and computers. In 1999 my son, Eli, graduated from college and came back to Healthy Living after 4 years in Boston. In the summer of 2007 he and I broke ground (after 3 years of research and planning) on our current store; 35,000 square feet. At the time, this was a huge leap and a store size that most independents never reach.
Two years later my daughter, Nina, having graduated from college and culinary school, returned to Vermont and to Healthy Living! With her, Nina brought a new energy and passion for learning and teaching, and founded the Healthy Living Learning Center, an innovative program of classes and demonstrations that help customers connect with their food through education.
I now find myself working side-by-side with my kids, which is really a joy and makes Healthy Living a true family business.
It’s been an intense and amazing trip. I went from one employee to currently almost 150, from 1,200 square feet to 35,000, from putting away the entire order by myself to having a team of grocery folks attacking it en masse, and from basically knowing zero about business to being pretty darn good at it! As we embark on our second store in Saratoga Springs, New York, I find I still love the everyday routines, the customer interactions, the new product excitement, the seasonal changes, the learning process. All I’ve learned over the years about running a business translates to taking care of people… serving people, which is, I believe, a good way to live on this planet.
—Katy Lesser, Founder and Co-owner