By JOHN T. WARD
The paper came off the windows and a six-year vacancy in downtown Red Bank ended with the opening of the Kahalid Channa’s long-awaited Healthy Habits Natural Foods store Monday.
Channa has been here before.
The store is at 65 Broad Street, slotted between a Smoothie King shop and an equally persistent vacancy, the former home of a dress shop called Marisa.
High-priced eyewear retailer Chic Optique lasted just two years years at Healthy Habits’ new home before bailing in June, 2008, its artistically pre-rusted sign taking on more rust with each passing year.
Channa himself had been angling to open his shop at the location for more than two years. So what took so long?
“I don’t know,” he told Retail Churn with a laugh. “It’s been so long, I’ve forgotten.” But the town government, he said, “has to do more to help” businesses struggling to open, he said.
Channa has deep experience downtown. He had a heath food shop at 25 Monmouth Street, now occupied by Earth Spirit, from April, 1991 until August, 2005. He moved out, he said, because Whole Foods had just opened in Middletown, and he thought he needed to protect the part of his customer base that the giant chain might siphon off.
So he opened a store called Harmony Health on Route 35 in Middletown and closed down in Red Bank. His clientele came with him, he said.
Harmony Health is still in operation, but with his kids approaching college, “I needed to grow revenue,” he said.
“Red Bank need a good health food store,” he said, noting that not long ago it had two, and until Monday, had none. The market is “very health conscious.”
Besides, he said, “I always thought Red Bank had potential.”
Channa hired a former Whole Foodser, Rob Bianchini, to run his store’s organic juice bar, which is the first thing visitors encounter when they enter the shop. There’s a long wall of organic vitamins and supplements along one wall, three aisles of non-GMO packaged products, and two walls of refrigerators, not yet stocked.
For health-minded lunch hunters, Healthy Habits will have a fresh supply of grab-and-go sandwiches brought in from specialty vendors, Channa said.