Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market
Rick Hood opened City Market in 1989, a 3,000-square-foot store near the intersection of Patterson and Libbie Avenues in Richmond’s West End. The market was the first in the area to provide access to organic produce and natural products.
Four years later, City Market moved to Carytown in 5,000-square-feet of space. Anica, the 12-year-old daughter of a market employee, is responsible for giving the grocery store its name. While many think the store is named for a “Mr. Ellwood Thompson,” it’s actually named after the intersection where the store is located, on the corner of Ellwood Ave. and Thompson St. From personal and business perspectives, Rich was deeply committed from the outset to the market’s mission: To feed the heart and soul of our community through a commitment to local and organic foods.
Since its move to Carytown, the store has continued to grow, through seven expansions and remodels, recently stretching to 20,000-square‐feet. Ellwood’s employs more than 120 “stewards” who strive to offer a deep selection of healthy foods, all meeting high standards set by the company, with special emphasis on local and organic products. A greatly expanded take-out deli, in-house prepared foods, full-service meat and seafood, an in-house bakery and a coffee and juice bar are all offered.
Ellwood Thompson’s is, at its base, a retail food store with all of the business requirements of any grocery store, but it has grown successfully because it does not operate like a typical grocery store.
Ellwood Thompson’s is more like a tight-knit community of like-minded people committed to finding and providing healthy, local and organic food. The store’s offerings are focused from local farmers and small food manufacturers (located within a 100-mile radius of the store). The store supports small local, organic and certified naturally-grown farms by buying their produce and vegetables, which enables it to sell the freshest, healthiest and best tasting products to its customers.
There is a strong related commitment to the environment in store operations including minimal, recyclable packaging, water and energy conservation, composting and solar panels. Trained as an architect, Hood contributes professional expertise through store design and re-use of building materials in its growth. The store is also dedicated to social consciousness, focusing on fair trade products made by workers who are treated paid fairly.
Ellwood Thompson’s stewards and business and community partners also share a dedication to maintaining healthy lifestyles, where sourcing local products, tending gardens, recycling, composting, volunteering and staying environmentally friendly are all part of everyday routines. Every month, the store supports and promotes one or more local nonprofit agencies and organizations that represent these lifestyle principles and purposes.
Despite being surrounded by three chain supermarkets, Ellwood Thompson’s continues to thrive in its healthy eating niche as the largest independent organic and natural food store in Virginia.
In 2014, Ellwood Thompson’s was again voted Best Neighborhood Market by readers of Richmond Magazine.
This past year, Ellwood Thompson’s formed a Local Food Group of farmers, farmers market operators, small grocers and others interested in working together to educate more people about the benefits of eating local food and to improve the access and distribution of local food. This group of about 25 “like minded” interested parties meet monthly in the store’s Community Room.
Rick is always looking to raise the standards of the food sold in the store. This year local farmers grew specialty varieties of vegetables, including heirloom varieties, which are more nutritious than typical commodity types. Standards such as “No Advertising to Children,” (which means no national cartoon characters), only organic flour in our bakery and healthy oils in prepared foods were also introduced.
Recent initiatives include sponsoring the first “Farm Tour” in the area in partnership with VABF and plans to make this an annual event. Giving store tours and educating school children to make them aware of organic food, processed food risks and other health concerns that lead to obesity is also a priority.
In looking to the future, Rick would like to be part of establishing a sustainable farm, creating a destination site for the region. The farm would demonstrate how farmers can work together profitably and be used as an education center, farmer’s market and an event destination.
Rick is a graduate with an A.B. in Economics, from the University of North Carolina and a graduate, with a B.A. in Architecture, from the University of Tennessee. He is a member of RVA Food Collaborative, Local Food Group (founding member; steering committee), Independent Natural Food Retailer Association, Tricycle Gardens (Board Member).