WORTHINGTON -- When current owner Amanda Walljasper-Tate purchased Schafer's Health Food Store from longtime proprietor Irma Schafer in 2008, the store was already well-known throughout the Worthington area for Schafer's depth of knowledge about natural health and vitamin products. Schafer and her late husband, Karl, operated the business together for 32 years, until Karl passed away in 2007.
Vitamins and natural health products have remained a mainstay of the downtown Worthington business during the last five years, and Walljasper-Tate has added further products to delight area residents.
Although a store named Schafer's has resided in the current building for 38 years, the Schafer family history in Worthington stretches farther back into the past.
"In the 1930's Karl's parents owned a full processing meat counter in the building. They originally had a kill floor where live animals could be brought in," Walljasper-Tate explained. "Karl and Irma Schafer first started their health food store in 1975 on the lake, by Karleys Drive-In. When the drive-in closed in 1983, they moved into the former Schafers meat counter building, which had been the Gobbler Restaurant."
Walljasper-Tate gives credit to the Schafers for all they did and notes how far ahead of their time they were, as health food stores and supplements were not the craze they are now. Irma Schafer passed away on April 3rd of this year, at the venerable age of 98.
"She was one of the last longtime downtown Worthington business owners," Walljasper-Tate said.
According to Walljasper-Tate, Schafer still worked every day, until she sold the business to her in 2008.
How did this family-run business get passed on to a young Worthington newcomer?
"I taught elementary Spanish for five years, had my master's degree in education and really enjoyed it," Walljasper-Tate said. "For the last 13 years or so, I've had an interest in natural health, and when I moved here in 2000, I was a customer at the store."
Soon, Walljasper-Tate's interest and curiosity became a full-fledged small business venture. "I knew them (the Schafers) a little, and went in and met the family, and as a young single person with few assets, it was a pretty miraculous thing that I was able to buy it," Walljasper-Tate said.
Running a small business and finding financing aren't simple, but for Walljasper-Tate, it all worked out in the end.
"It was not an easy task to find a bank that would finance me," she said. "Back then, a lot of people thought I was absolutely crazy."
Five years later, Schafer's Health and Gifts has branched out and been a bright spot in the downtown area.
"It doesn't seem possible that it's been five years," Walljasper-Tate admitted. "It has gone very fast, and we've made a lot of gradual changes and improvements to the store."
Continued improvement and change has been important.
"A real key to survive in small towns is to have what people want and are asking for," Walljasper-Tate said. "We invite everyone to come out and see the store and the changes, as many people haven't been in for a long time. We recently repainted all the walls as well."
Today, Schafer's Health and Gifts offers products ranging from herbal teas to vitamin supplements, to vintage items and fashion accessories such as scarves and sandals, among other items.
"I had a vision, but had no idea that we would be doing everything that we are today," Walljasper-Tate said. "I'm very thankful for the community and those in the area that shop here. In small towns, it's important to see businesses like this one continue, and have more small business open. I'm passionate about the community and being a part of it."
The life of a small business owner can be fraught with stress and difficulty, but Walljasper-Tate has remained undeterred.
"It's a challenge, as small businesses take a lot of work and time, but I've absolutely loved it," she said. "There isn't a day I don't want to come to work. I just love it, and am really excited about health products."
Three years ago, Walljasper-Tate was contacted by residents of Storm Lake, Iowa, after their health food store closed, and asked to reopen it.
"It worked out, and it has been exciting to have another store (The Daily Apple)," Walljasper-Tate said. "It took time, but the people of Storm Lake are happy to get the products they need in town."
As for further expansion, Walljasper-Tate said with a laugh, "No more plans to expand -- two is enough."
To celebrate the five-year anniversary, Schafer's has planned a five day flurry of sales and special events starting Tuesday.
"Tuesday is the big day. We will give away produce from the Worthington Farmers Market, and those who want to give back can bring a backpack with school supplies, or non-perishable food to be donated to the Manna Food Pantry," Walljasper-Tate detailed.
Also on Tuesday, 5 percent of sales will go to Love INC of Worthington.
"They are in the process of expanding their reach and empowering people to get out of poverty, and we thought it would be good to partner with them and kick that off," Walljasper-Tate said. "They're an important organization; it's important to be involved and give back to the community."