You go, Yoga natural foods; Pioneer couldn’t stomach costs

Integral Yoga Natural Foods, on W. 13th St., closed last month after no longer being able to make ends meet. Photo Wikimapia

BY MICHELE HERMAN | The Integral Yoga Natural Foods Store on W. 13th St. closed on Dec. 9, but don’t blame the landlord.

The store, around since 1973, was the ground-floor tenant of the Integral Yoga Institute. The two were separate entities with a shared commitment to the teachings of the Institute’s founder, Swami Satchidananda, and the Institute always kept the rent far below market rate.

Even so, the store had been struggling to remain viable for at least the past two years. Chandra/Jo Sgammato, the Institute’s general manager, said that changing demographics were one factor. Some new residents, she said, live in the area only part time and tend to eat out more. Not knowing the store’s importance to the neighborhood’s history and to the natural-food movement, they felt no particular allegiance to it.

The other main factor has been increasingly fierce competition. The store offered free local delivery, but even that couldn’t compare to the ease of one-click shopping from Amazon and FreshDirect. Nor could the little store compete with the massive chains Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s on price. Mrs. Green’s on Hudson St. also had an outsize impact, considering how quickly it flared out, causing a noticeable drop in sales at the W. 13th St. natural-foods store.

Sgammato, a neighborhood resident, is as disappointed as the rest of the store’s devoted shoppers, who especially appreciated the organic locally sourced produce. But as befits a longtime yogi, she accepts what exists.

“It was pioneering,” she said. “No one knew what health food was in the Seventies, but now you can get organic and gluten-free food everywhere, which we’re glad of. In a sense, the store accomplished its mission.”

She even wishes all the best to the competition, including the recently expanded Health and Harmony on Hudson St.

The store tried mightily to make a go of it by shortening hours and reducing staff.

“They did their best trying to keep up payments to their vendors,” Sgammato said, “so that items wouldn’t be out of stock for too long. But it probably should have closed two years ago. They just couldn’t make ends meet.”

One other factor played into the store’s struggles: its commitment to the Integral Yoga Institute’s mission. Once, she recalled, a store employee came into the Institute with a case of salad dressing to give away — the ingredient list included eggs.

“For decades this was New York’s only 100-hundred percent vegetarian health-food store,” she explained. “Other stores sold meat, but that’s not acceptable to I.Y.I.’s teachings, which hurt the store.”

Now the Institute has a tough needle to thread: It needs a market-rate tenant that will provide a service consistent with the swami’s teachings.

“We have dreams,” Sgammato said. “We would love a vegan all-day cafe and grocery store with items not found elsewhere. I would really love a gathering space for the community, but we also have to be realistic — it has to be a reliable tenant who can pay the rent every month.”

Proposals are welcome. She also said she wanted to let everyone know that the Integral Yoga Institute is doing just fine.

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