By LeRae Haynes –
When Bruce Mattson opened the doors of Sta-Well Health Foods in Williams Lake 38 years ago, people laughed at the health food industry and thought he was out of his mind. “This was a meat-and-potatoes town, and when I borrowed money and set up this store people thought I was crazy,” he said.
Self-described as a stubborn retailer in a full-spectrum store, Mattson stocks things like bulk food, produce, a full line of supplements, backpacking and survival food, body care products, treats, good coffee, and more. People enjoy hearing his weather forecasts of the week and his fishing tips for the weekend.
“Things have changed a lot since I first opened,” he said. “Today there is a lot more information out there, and people come in here knowing what they want. They get info from media, Internet and TV ads, and it really keeps us on our toes.
“We could fill a store 20 times this size, but our inventory is customer-guided, and we carry what our customers need and want,” he said. “Twenty years ago a lot of what we’re into today was considered off-beat and even crazy. Now it’s mainstream: That’s progress.”
Mattson said another thing that has changed is the high number of people with sudden, unexplained allergies and sensitivities. “We see people of all ages with things like eczema and new food allergies—it’s very common.
“These are conditions that can’t be explained except by antibiotics, pharmaceuticals, and the pollution of the world,” he continued. “On the other hand, what we have to offer has really increased, too; there are so many choices.
“One new thing I’m excited about is something customers have been waiting for—our new line of genetically modified organism (GMO) free supplements. I think the ‘big boys’ will change if enough people demand GMO-free products,” he said. “People want labels and they want to be able to choose.”
With all the new information, products, and options, one thing that has not changed over the years is Mattson’s utter commitment to high quality products and good customer service. “We have customers who have been coming in here for 38 years and we are into a third generation of shoppers,” he said, adding that a large number of their customers are new.
Sta-Well’s long-time customers include many residents in Bella Coola. For the past 14 years he has also made an annual drive to deliver special orders for valley residents. “I am blessed to be in a locale where customers 450km away still shop with me. When I deliver to Bella Coola I set up at Mountain Valley Organics in the back of the truck and on tables, like the old days,” he explained.
He said the big stores have really squeezed out smaller stores, but he’s still here thanks to faith in his good customers. “I match prices where I can and try to stay ahead of what the big stores are handling,” he said. “I think it’s so positive that this little store is alive and healthy after all these years.”
Sta-Well is a true family business. Along with long-time employee Doris Ford, the store staff includes Mattson’s daughters Natasha Mattson, Jennifer Schick, and Tamara Richardson, and his son-in-law Adam Richardson.
Tamara said she was six months old when her dad opened the store. “All of us daughters sat on the big stool behind the till with Dad, and now my kids do, too,” she explained, adding that after being away for 18 years she’s back with her family.
“I love that people come here and know us—it’s all about relationships,” she said.
Her husband Adam, who is in the store full time, agrees. “You can find products online or in other places but here you’ll find someone who cares about the products and cares about you.”
For more information about the products available at Sta-Well Health Foods phone (250) 392-7022, stop by the store at 79d Third Ave N in Williams Lake, visit the website at www.stawellhealthfoods.ca, or find the company on Facebook.
LeRae Haynes is a freelance writer, song writer, community co-ordinator for Success by 6, member of Perfect Match dance band, and instigator of lots of music with kids.