- Good Earth Natural Foods' Bob Bennington and Rudy Nehrling. Photo by Mark Lee
"As a young man growing up, I don't remember seeing anyone running down the street for any good reason," says Bob Bennington of a time before a nationwide wellness craze took hold. Bennington is a longtime member of Good Earth, Indianapolis' first natural foods store.
In those days, businesses like the Good Earth were called "health food stores." A woman named Julia Johnson started Good Earth in Broad Ripple 40 years ago. At that time, the concept may have been a little ahead of the curve for Indy.
Then, in 1973, Bob Landman bought the business and things took off. Landman, who passed away in 2008, brought together a team of people who made Good Earth a Broad Ripple landmark. "People still miss him very, very much," says Bennington. "He was totally uninhibited. He created an atmosphere where he could be himself, which funneled down to everybody else who was employed here, or people who shopped here. There was no artifice."
Good Earth found itself on the cusp of larger social changes in terms of how people thought about their health. "There was a tremendous growth in the relationship between food and diet and health," says Bennington. "That started attracting everyone. There was an explosion of people caring about their physical futures."
Natural foods emerged as an industry in the '80s and '90s. As the field grew, so did Good Earth's competition. National chain stores were built around the concept. But Good Earth has not only survived — it's flourished. "People in stores like ours generally utilize the products they sell. They're familiar with them, they know how to prepare them, they know what value they have," says Bennington. "Sometimes that information is so important to people who are changing the way they do things."
Rudy Nehrling, the Landmans' son-in-law, recently arrived to help manage the store. He sees Good Earth's impact with fresh eyes: "People enjoy coming here," he says. "There's a personal relationship at a lot of different levels and I think to a lot of people, buying local at an independent store has some appeal. But you also realize that while this is a business and we sell products to people, Good Earth has a meaning beyond that. Just being here after so many years — people have memories associated with it. That's really powerful. It's important to us, our family and our customers."
Located in an old house on the Central Canal that's been added onto and reconfigured in various ways over the years, Good Earth has grown along with its Broad Ripple neighborhood and has contributed to Broad Ripple's identity. "A city that never had a real Bohemian history suddenly had that kind of thing emerge here," says Bob Bennington of the neighborhood. "It's continued on and will continue, I think, forever."
As for Good Earth, he says: "If you try to compete too hard, you lose sight of who you are. So we just keep doing what we do and hope we continue to do it better."