Colonial Health Food Center, located at 43 North Front St., is the oldest health food store in Ulster County. It has occupied its current storefront since 1961 (the business was founded in 1960) and was bought by current owner Natu Shah in 1986. Shah, a native of India, opened up a health food store in Poughkeepsie several months after immigrating to America in 1977, bringing an Indian tradition to the States just at the time when people started getting serious about eating whole foods and following a holistic health regime. It’s a trend that’s blossomed to become a way of life for many, and, despite the faded interior—actually charmingly retro, with its tin ceiling–Colonial has solidly kept up with the times.
The shelves are loaded with vitamins, protein supplements, organic drinks and dairy products, nuts, spices, teas, body lotions and oils, probiotics (flax seed oil, fish oil, and the like), shampoos, tinctures, cleaning products, you name it—altogether, more than 3,000 items, Shah estimated. (A spry 78-
year-old who could pass for 60, he’s a living testament to the healthfulness of his wares.) He noted the store carries several exclusive brands. They include Bio-Essence International, which makes an allergy, hay fever and sinus treatment that Colonial’s regular customers swear by, and Vita Therapy, whose vitamins are all natural, of course, and cost 20 percent less than other brands.
Manager Liz Hoffmann, who holds a degree in biology from the University of Texas and is unusually knowledgeable about the various elixirs on the shelves, points out a relatively new product, jars of human growth hormone made from deer antlers and stem cells. She said it helps the immune system and is popular with women. Another exotic product that she said bolsters up the body is bee pollen. “We are the cheapest health food store around and have a very eclectic selection,” said Hoffmann.
But Colonial offers much more than holistic health products. If you want to buy green, check out the Seventh Generation recyclable toilet paper and paper towels in the back. If you want to buy spices, flour, dried fruit, beans, nuts, honey or other whole food at a reasonable price, this is the place. The selection is phenomenal, with many of the items hand-packed in ziplock bags. There’s half a dozen kinds of cashew nuts—a good-sized bag is priced as low as $4.50—and bags of millet, quinoa, wheat berries, chickpea flour, red lentils and toor dal, a yellow lentil-like bean that Hoffmann said is particularly tasty. A jar of organic raw honey is just $3.99, or you can splurge and spent $20 for raw wanuka honey, which comes from Africa and contains an antiseptic; it can be both eaten and applied onto the skin.
You can grind your own peanut butter for $1.79 a pound (11 cents more if you don’t have a container). The raw snack items in the refrigerated shelves include a variety of nuggets sweetened with honey or berries and enriched with sunflower seeds or nuts–all tasty, healthy and affordable. Colonial also stocks a variety of Indian foods. There are bags of curried cashews, bottles of curry sauces, loose curry leaves in a bag, chunks of raw jadgery sugar (rich in calcium and magnesium, according to the package) and frozen Indian dinners. Shah makes his own ghee—clarified butter, which has no butterfat—which is sold in small jars. The only thing Colonial doesn’t stock is produce (although it sells organic milk and free-range eggs). That lack is fulfilled half the year by the Kingston Farmers’ Market, which has been great for business, Shah said.
Even if health food stores aren’t your thing, if you love to eat and cook from scratch, you’ll want to visit Colonial Health Food Center. Friendly, well stocked, it’s a throwback to the mom and pop stores when they were at their peak—and proof that their appeal never went out of date. —Lynn Woods