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Checking out the Healthy Living Market and Cafe

healthy living market exterior

At the store's opening day on Thursday.

By Daniel B.

The new Healthy Living Market and Cafe in the Wilton Mall is hard to nail down.

It's not a health food store, yet it has a section full of natural health products and supplements. It's not a specialty foods store, even though they stock some hard-to-find, high-end items that are bound to delight enthusiasts. It's certainly not a conventional grocery store, although it has everything from pet and baby food to cleaning supplies to toilet paper.

And while they will proudly carry conventionally produced strawberries in the winter -- because, as Healthy Living owner Katy Lesser explained, that's "what Americans want" -- they will never stock Coca-Cola. Not even the Mexican stuff with real sugar.

So what is this place, how does it fit into the region's supermarket scene, and is there anything there worth a drive?

There are a bunch of large-format photos above -- scroll all the way up.

Healthy Living Market interior

To understand the market today, one has to know a little bit about its past. The Wilton location is just the second store for the 27-year-old operation from near Burlington, Vermont. And much like Albany's beloved Honest Weight Food Co-op, Healthy Living started as a very small natural food store long before there was such a thing as a national organic standard. In the beginning there was no meat. They wouldn't even sell white flour.

The family that owns and runs the Healthy Market is still rooted in that ethos, but have realized that as they expand it needs to be a bit more flexible to be commercially viable.

Still, working with local farmers and producers seems to be a cornerstone of their operation. They hold winter planning conferences with their farmer partners to make sure everyone isn't growing the same crops, and helping to ensure they can buy from as many producers as possible. One employee told the story of paying a farmer in advance for the season's crop so the farm could fund the greenhouse the vegetables needed to grow.

Healthy Living Market meat

And to get local meat from smaller farms, the meat department is set up to buy sides of beef and whole pigs and lamb. This is rarely done anymore as it requires an on site staff that's trained in nose to tail butchering. This is quite impressive.

Really, a lot of what Healthy Living is trying to do is impressive. However, it may take them awhile to get their Saratoga operation up to speed.

For example, they say their fish buying is guided by the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch program. And while there are some responsible salmon farms producing a good product that's available fresh year round, but the fishmonger wasn't able to provide the name of the specific farm where their fish was raised. And talking to the meat guy, they're still trying to figure out what they can do in New York when it comes to getting organ meats and other variety cuts from the slaughterhouses. They know how it all works in Vermont -- they're learning as they go in the Empire State.

Healthy Living Market meat

More than anything else Healthy Living Market feels like a Whole Foods, only smaller and more nimble. It doesn't have a list of unacceptable ingredients like Whole Foods. So you still have to check labels if you are concerned about certain additives in your food.

Worth adding to the supermarket rotation?

healthy living produce

But given the product mix -- including an extensive bulk section, beautiful produce that runs the gamut from conventional to local to organic, some truly amazing cheeses from Vermont, New York and California, and a remarkable array of small locally produced dairy products -- I'm hard pressed to imagine that those intrepid health food enthusiasts who currently make a regular pilgrimage across the Twin Bridges and down to Albany's Honest Weight Food Co-op will continue to do so.

And for people who currently shop primarily at a Price Chopper or Hannaford? It depends on what you buy. If you shop those supermarkets for conventionally produced packaged goods, you won't be able to find a lot of the brands you are accustomed to seeing on the shelves. If, however, you have been relying on the existing supermarkets to stock up on natural, sustainable and local foods, Healthy Living is going to seem like heaven.

Healthy Living Market beer

For those south of the bridges, a visit to Healthy Living Market would totally be a fun excursion. They have things in this store that look amazing and that I haven't seen elsewhere. The Trappistes Rochefort 10 brewed by Brasserie de Rochefort would seem to be pretty special, and at $6 a bottle it's a deal. And I love that the cartons of "home-raised and hand-gathered" eggs from O'Herien Hens are clearly filled with eggs of all different colors. The mortadella from Salumeria Biellese is in the meat case proudly bearing its Slow Food Snail of Approval.

The cafe

Healthy Living Market espresso

In Healthy Living's cafe most people will notice the shining La Marzocco espresso machine before the doserless espresso grinders. But it's the grinders that make all the difference in the world. John, who travelled out from the Burlington location to train the staff, pulled a shot using a custom espresso blend from Uncommon Grounds built on the downtown Saratoga shop's Kenya AA beans. And the cafe at Healthy Living uses Battenkill milk in their cappuccino and latte.

If coffee isn't your thing, they also have an organic juice bar where you can get organic smoothies.

While none of their hot foods or sandwiches looked particularly enticing, the extensive and colorful salad bar along with their in-house made dressings could help to balance out a meal consisting of a glorious wedge of cheese, olives and bread.

Oh, yeah: They also have an adjacent wine shop in the building. It's not quite wine in the grocery store, but it's as close as we're going to get. (The separate shop allows them to comply with New York State law that prohibits grocery stores from selling wine.)

If you cannot imagine dragging yourself up to Wilton for groceries, do yourself a favor. The next time you are headed up to Lake George or the Adirondacks, pop off at exit 15 and stop in for an espresso. Walk around, stretch your legs, and browse -- you'll find something interesting.

There are a bunch of large-format photos above -- scroll all the way up.

Daniel B. is the proprietor of the FUSSYlittleBLOG.

Find It

Healthy Living Market and Cafe
Wilton Mall
Wilton, NY 12866

Comments

You had me at VT Smoke and Cure.

If nothing else, it looks from these photos like the layout of this store is MUCH better than their other one -- the Burlington store is a labyrinth, a cramped maze that it's very easy to get lost in. This looks a lot more spread-out and a lot easier to navigate.

i'm sure it is a lovely as Dan B. says it is, but there is no chance that I am going to a mall to do my grocery shopping. ever.

Yeah, I won't be going up there for all of that. Although, I will say that the fat cap on that VT pork shoulder was particularly enticing for those of us who do our own sausage/salami making.

I have found myself rarely straying outside of the Slingerlands/Delmar area for groceries lately. I have a hodge-podge, puddle jumping style of grocery shopping. As much as we are a busy family, we rarely do an en masse shopping excursion at one single establishment. We do a little Delmar Market, a little Hannaford's (mostly for reasonably priced Meadow Brook dairy), a little Stewart's, and a little P-Chops (I will admit that the Slingerlands Shop Rite is slow creeping into the rotation). For any luxury type foods we go to any of the usual suspects in the area (Rolf's has a monopoly on my backyard grilling/smoking trade).

You know what? I kind of like poking into all of these various establishments. It gives me something to do and gets me out and about within my little corner of the world. I have no urge to see all of my various shopping needs consolidated within one store, no matter how convenient that may be. Even though it may entail entering some big-box, regional/national type concerns, you can generally source a responsible sort of diet within the confines of most Capital Region towns. You just have to know who peddles what.

But if you must shop in the new model "health food/pseudo Coop" type environment (wooden barrels, earth tones, food containers with spigots, etc...) then god bless. This place looks like a gem of the genre.

As a Saratogian, this is a HUGE addition to our area. I already go to at least two or three stores (PC, Hannaford, and Four Seasons and the occasional side trip to Trader Joe's on my way home), so adding one more to the list, especially one that is in the grocery "triangle" in Wilton, is a no-brainer (and it's directly behind The Meathouse and Bon Ton fish market).

While the "stigma" of buying groceries in a mall may be there, they have a separate parking lot entrance so you never have to set foot in the mall, and in the end aren't most of our area stores in a mall or shopping plaza? Plus, they get kudos for reusing space that would be going empty. To discount a store solely because of it's location seems silly, at least to me. Our area has many solid places that are located in less than ideal surroundings.

Based on my experience yesterday, there are three primary reasons for me to shop at HLMP (outside of the much more pleasant overall feel of the store):

1) Wider selection of organic products. I love and support the Annie's brand, because I feel it gives my kid what she wants and they seem to make (relatively) good stuff, which mollifies me. At PC and the Hfrd, there is rarely more than one option. At HLMP there are several in each category (granola bars and cereal, for instance), and my guess is there will be some kind of sale rotation between brands within a category, since several brands in each category are already on sale. Now I can try different brands, many of which are cheaper than Annie's, and make a decision based on variety and not default.

2) The bulk section is amazing. I rarely cook for more than two (AddiesMom and me), so having a wider bulk option is terrific for buying those ingredients I only need a little bit of.

3) Their support of local businesses. To Dan's point it's not just that they have Battenkill, because many places do, but buying coffee and bagels from Uncommon, meat from local farms, and yogurt from my favorite guy at the farmer's market. In many real ways, it feels like a seven day a week farmer's market, and that takes a lot of pressure off of me trying to get to the one on Saturday's every week.

A fourth reason is that HLMP came into Saratoga a year or less ago with a vengeance. They have sponsored almost everything people asked them to, and really made a point to be a part of the community up here (some of these opportunities worked better than others, to be frank). It is terribly difficult for the small non-profits and charities to get PC or Hfrd to return a phone call, but near as I can tell HLMP gave anyone who asked at least something.

One thing I will say, is many of the more unique and exclusive products are pricey. A quick scan showed me that, for the most part, pricing lined up with Hfrd and PC, but I plan on doing some real cost comparisons to be sure.

More competition means a better grocery experience for everyone, eventually, and for that reason alone this opening should be celebrated.

I, for one, welcome our new grocery overlord!

AddiesDad raises a crucial point: Can we get someone to do a price comparison between HL and our existing grocery stores? Having access to good food is great, but if the prices are inaccessibly high, it doesn't matter much.

I'm looking forward to a future year's grocery comparison:

Whole Foods vs. HWFC vs. HLM

And by the time that rolls around I suppose we'll have the more traditional:

Hannaford vs. PC vs. Shop Rite vs. ....dare I suggest 4th alternative that starts with a W and doesn't end in a 'mart'?

I wish I was still living in the North Country. I'd definitely be venturing down more frequently to exit 15 for groceries. Hope to check this place out next time up in the area.

It must be nice to have enough money to be able to drive more than 15 miles from home to buy groceries. I can't afford to use that much gas. Not to mention that most of the prices shown in the photos are *way* above my price range.

And then, there are certain foods where "healthy" goes out the window -- I wouldn't pay a single cent for a rib-eye steak that has no visible fat marbling.

Thanks for the preview! I'm hoping to make the switch to raw milk and so will probably be making the trek to Willow Marsh Farm in Ballston Spa now and then. Hopefully Healthy Living will make the long drive from Troy a bit more profitable.

Being a recent Saratogian, I loved HLM. I've lived in other places in the country where they did have a Whole Foods and HLM DEFINITELY mimics the feel, the look and the prices of WF. The variety of gluten free, organic and vegan options at HLM make it a must (if you go that way with your diet)

@Valerae my husband is the shopper and money manager of the family and he said that average price was 50 cents to $1 more expensive for the same item at HLM than it is at PC or Hannaford.

The problem with PC/Hannaford is that you have to go to both places AND go to Four Seasons AND Honest Weight to get all the items. We used to do that, now we won't have this problem. HLM makes it "one-stop-shopping". I have to admit, I really, really hope HLM does well. I could care less that it's in a mall, it has its own entrance and I don't have to step foot into the mall to get into HLM. At least it has parking!

My feeling is that PC won't be affected because PC goes after different clientele than HLM. Same with Walmart. People that shop at Walmart and PC won't shop at HLM or even know most of the products sold at HLM for that matter.

On the other hand, Hannaford will definitely lose some, maybe quite a bit of business. The people that go to Hannaford is more upscale than PC/Walmart. Problem with Hannaford is that they haven't establish what they are (are they all about low prices/doubling coupons? are they trying to expand Nature's place and go more organic?) They were definitely my bread and butter place to do most of my grocery shopping but not anymore. I've heard that from several people that have visited HLM the last couple of days.

Four Seasons will be in big trouble if HLM takes off IMHO. Prices are the same but HLM dwarfs them. It's a shame because Four Seasons had a chance to take off but they chose to be in the small location in town. Parking there is atrocious at best. I know that they are moving but they're going to get squished like an ant. Sorry because I know and love the owners of Four Seasons!

Only question is how Fresh Market will do in Saratoga later this year....we'll see.

I was just there and the market looks nothing like the beautiful, well-stocked pictures at the head of the article... not their fault, but the shelves of many departments have been stripped clean in a feeding frenzy by early visitors. I have to think this is a good thing.

HLM may look like Whole Foods but they're a family run operation and took a huge risk opening their first ever expansion store. Looks like it is paying off and I'm glad. As to prices, I've found some high (King Arthur Flour), some a bargain (almost any cheese) and some great to stock up on sale (olive oils right now).

I was living in San Francisco when Whole Foods opened their first store there and jaded as we were, there was a real buzz of excitement in the aisles. I feel the same excitment at HLM. It's pretty cool.

I was in there on Sunday to look around after I had done my grocery shopping at Price Chopper earlier in the day. Chobani yogurt was 10 for $10 at price chopper and $1.69 at HLM. HLM deli potato salad was $9.50/lb compared to $3.99 at PC. Luna bars were $1.69 at HM and $1.25 at PC.

I may go in here when I am hunting for something I absolutely cannot find elsewhere, but I thought the mark up was ridiculous compared to a traditional grocery store.

Looks like they have a lot of wonderful products. I was particularly heartened to see that Molinari salame on the right in one of the pictures....

Still, I can't imagine I'll be in Wilton (wherever that is) anytime soon, and I continue to fail to understand why businesses upstate insist on spreading so far out. If this place were on Lark Street, I'd be there in a heartbeat to check it out. Why not open a New York State location on Lark or Broadway rather than sticking it out in the middle of nowhere? A continuing conundrum up here that I will never, most likely, understand.

@Caravan70: Because to some people, Lark Street is the "middle of nowhere." There are plenty of people who live in or not far from Wilton (which is right next to Saratoga Springs, btw). Plus, there's plenty of parking at the mall, whereas parking in downtown Albany is a headache at best.

@Laura: I did a price comparison today (and blogged about it just now), and you're totally right: Healthy Living's prices are just outrageous.

@Valerae - comparing Honest Weight Food Co-op to Whole Foods and Healthy Living Market is really comparing apples and oranges. I don't shop at a co-op because it has the best prices, I shop at it to be a responsible citizen of my community. Pricing at Honest Weight varies based on the amount of work-share time you do, it isn't straightforward. Shopping at Honest Weight keeps money in this community, rather than sending it to some big corporation like Whole Foods (headquartered in Texas). It is hard, given those non-quantifiable differences, to really do a straight comparison.

This store looks nice from the photos, but based on KB's observations, they better hope that Trader Joes doesn't decide Saratoga is a good spot for a second Capital Region location. 60% markup? Yikes...

If this kind of store had been a possibility for Lark Street, the Honest Weight Food Co-op would have moved its new store there. But it's not. Not enough room, not enough parking.

@JLH Before the planned expansion of the co-op I would have agreed with you. But now millions of dollars are owed to banks based in Buffalo, NY and Amherst, MA.

Money spent at the co-op will for the first time be heading out of our community.

One might argue this was a matter of necessity. Others would disagree. But what is clear is that the co-op is changing. It could turn out to be a good thing in the end. But how one thinks about the co-op will have to change too (at least until their debts are paid off).

I wish them luck. They are a valuable resource for the community, and it would be a shame if in this recent building project they bit off more than they could chew. Certainly every new market that comes into the region chips a little bit away from their potential revenues.

True believers could easily have kept this place afloat without debt. With the burden from the banks, I worry about what other changes the co-op might need to make to stay commercially viable down the road.

I am excited for the location! I go up the Northway a lot to the Adirondacks from Troy, and it will be nice to have a place to stop without having to double back to Albany for HWFC or Trader Joes.

Was there yesterday for the first time because I had run out of everything all at once. I usually go to Hannaford for most items, rarely do I step foot into a Price Chopper and I would get the few things at Four Seasons.

I'm comparing Healthy Living to my local Hannaford in Saratoga. There really is no comparison!

Store was amazingly laid out and extremely clean. Nice staff and I even had the owner bag my groceries. Very, very fresh produce. It is a bit pricey and it does remind me of Whole Foods when I lived in Texas and the Boston area. Stock items are more expensive (as written in above posts).

I will be a regular shopper at Healthy Living from now on due to the freshness of their produce. Overall, I've been quite disappointed since moving to Saratoga as the quality of produce in the region. I am a vegetarian and I am a bit of a produce snob. That night I made my first salad with the veggies I had purchased at Healthy Living earlier. Their produce was so fresh, that the taste of flavors were popping my mouth. Peppers tasted more peppery, apples were juicier and the kale was so fresh and juicy!

I will not go back to Hannaford again. It is well worth the extra few bucks to have fresh produce and not have to worry if it's going to be fresh by the time it makes it to my plate.

Healthy Living rocks!

The photo of the teas is awesome. The missing tooth just left of center is perfect.

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