Innovative and Sustainable Scrubs and Apparel

Eco-friendly Shop is Much Like an Organic General Store

By COURTNEY CAIRNS PASTOR | The Tampa Tribune

Cammie Cunningham knew she was taking a risk in a shaky economy when she decided to turn her virtual storefront into an actual one. But she thought she had found a niche that could make it work.

Jem’s Natural Living opened on Sheldon Road in November, offering natural and organic products ranging from mattresses to pet food to children’s toys.

“It’s kind of a little bit of everything,” Cunningham said.

Cunningham and family members founded Jem’s Movement Inc. about nine years ago, specializing in web sales of environmentally friendly merchandise. Two years ago, she launched Her Sweet Baby, an online shop for green baby products and kids’ toys.

She wanted to bring the children’s goods and other items under one roof. A physical location also would allow her to carry supplements and certain brands, like Royal-Pedic organic cotton mattresses.

The timing wasn’t ideal with so many businesses struggling to make money, she said, but she didn’t want to wait until the economy rebounded completely.

“The only way it’s going to get better is to open businesses,” Cunningham said.

A Tampa native, Cunningham was living in Gainesville when she decided to move back to her hometown and open up shop. She liked Citrus Park because of its proximity to Westchase, and saw a need for organic products in that area.

The store had a slow start, Cunningham said, but is gaining traction.

“It’s just going to take time,” she said.

Cunningham is ramping up her advertising with a billboard and a television commercial to spread the word about what shoppers will find at Jem’s and to clear up misconceptions.

A lot of customers expected an organic grocer when they first came in, she said. Although Jem’s carries some food, it is not a Whole Foods. She does not sell meat or produce but has a thorough display of Bob’s Red Mill products, including gluten-free pizza crust, fava bean flour and flaxseed.

Jem’s also offers teas, Annie’s snacks and powdered peanut butter (PB2), among other products.

One customer referred to her as an organic general store, which is a closer fit than a grocery store. Jem’s sells vitamins, probiotics and supplements for children and adults, which Cunningham said has become a large part of her business. But unlike a vitamin shop, Cunningham has household and personal goods, too.

She sells a solar oven that can cook chickens and cookies. A large display of dog and cat food and toys takes up part of the front of the store. The rear section is dominated by the organic mattresses, as well as bamboo towels and bedding. Soft organic cotton lounge pants and shirts that say “live mindfully” and “laugh often” drape across the back wall.

Natural cleaning supplies, organic hand-knit dish cloths, makeup and handmade buckwheat pillows are available. One corner in the front with a gauzy canopy is devoted to children’s dress-up clothes, which Cunningham plans to expand for Halloween.

Baby and child products are tucked throughout the store – chemical-free diaper balms with the bath items, gummy vitamins near the supplements – as well as in designated spots. Two displays of toys are divided by age, with a Fascinations zoo globe and endangered animal erasers from Kikkerland available for older children. Toddlers will enjoy the recycled plastic trucks from Green Toys or the wooden playthings from Plan Toys or Holgate.

A display of onesies covers one wall, including several Dr. Seuss-themed ones from Bumkins. Underneath are cloth diapers, cloth training pants and organic cotton mattress pads.

Cunningham said she takes recommendations from customers for new products to bring in and researches all the companies before selling their wares. She said her store promotes healthy living and commits to eco-friendly, socially responsible and cruelty-free businesses.

Jem’s Natural Living, 11909 Sheldon Road, is in Citrus Falls Common Plaza near Carvel. The store is open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sundays.

For information, call (813) 926-2600 or go to www.jemsnaturalliving.com.

See story http://www2.tbo.com/lifestyles/education-news/2011/may/11/NWNEWSO6-eco-friendly-shop-is-much-like-an-organic-ar-205737/

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