Buying the farm: Investors may save beloved Slope health-food store, owner says

Buying the farm: Investors may save beloved Slope health-food store, owner says
Community News Group / Colin Mixson

This declining health-food store is not dead yet!

Angel investors may step in to save a Park Slope emporium of feel-good fare following news that the shop would close imminently after nearly half a century in business, according to its owner.

Back to the Land proprietor David Basham said more than one person expressed interest in saving the store known for its aisles of fruits, veggies, and supplements, including a longtime customer of the retailer at 142 Seventh Ave.

“I’m getting calls from people, investors,” he said. “Somebody who’s a longtime customer has been looking for an investment.”

But if he can’t collect the necessary cash at the 11th hour, Basham said bidding farewell to the neighborhood won’t be too hard because his decades there brought him nothing but good times.

“We want to tell everyone who’s been part of this experience over the years that we offer our gratitude and love to them for everything we went through together,” he said.

The store — which Basham bought an ownership stake in years after its original founder opened it in 1971 — struggled to turn a profit as the increasingly bougie neighborhood’s rents continued to rise, he said. And customers’ desires to cook less, eat out more, and buy groceries online didn’t help its bottom line, according to the owner.

In 2016, Basham streamlined operations as Back to the Land’s sales declined, hoping business would take a turn for the better the following year — but it never did.

“Toward the end of 2016 and into 2017, it just became too much,” he said. “We all said, ‘What happened to all the people in Park Slope? Were did all the foot traffic go?’ ”

Good-for-you grocers may now be a dime a dozen in the so-called progressive neighborhood, but back when founder Virginia Michael opened Back to the Land, the store stood out among the less virtuous establishments that populated Park Slope at the time, according to Basham, who started working there in 1981.

“This was a neighborhood of Irish bars, it was an incredibly rowdy scene of drunken abandonment every weekend night, and people would be walking by here, sticking their head in the door, saying ‘What the f— is this?’ ” he said.

A growing community of artists and proto-hipsters sought out the shop’s supplements and untainted foods, however, supporting the business for decades before the healthy-eating craze really took off in the late 90s, Basham said.

“It was mostly hippies interested in this kind of thing,” he said. “This was a very interesting creative area at that time, and people were looking for an alternative to the mainstream everything.”

And regardless of Back to the Land’s fate, Basham will always remember those customers fondly, and harbors no hard feelings toward them for taking their business elsewhere.

“I’m not going to chastise the neighborhood for not supporting the store, which is what some people do,” said Basham. “It’s more like thanks for the memories more than anything else.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.