By: Jerry Tenenberg
Founder of High Quality Organics
There is a great book called “Back to Eden”, written in 1939 by Jethro Kloss. By the early 70’s it was one of the bibles of herbology. A treatise on natural self-healing, it was a go-to for me when people would come into the store saying “do you have mugwort?” I thought “what the heck was that?”, but told the customer “we don’t have that right now, but give me a day or two and I’ll find it. From my research and questioning customers who were really knowledgeable themselves, I became acquainted with many herbs, botanicals and medicinals. We made it a goal to carry as many of these in bulk as possible and as natural as possible.
We did start to see traditional Chinese medicinal plants, herbs and ginseng becoming easier to procure. The “strange bedfellow’ story of how the Eastern door to plants opened is such; New York Times Journalist James Reston was accompanying President Nixon on the famous trip to China. Reston developed an acute case of appendicitis, and had to undergo surgery immediately. After removal of his appendix, at the aptly named “Anti-Imperialist Hospital” in Beijing, Reston’s pain was treated by Li Chang-Yuan with acupuncture. Everyone was so amazed with the pain relief that acupuncture afforded, Reston wrote about it in The New York Times. This was probably the first exposure many Americans had to Acupuncture and Traditional Chinese Medicine. The supply followed the new demand! A great time of transition, discovery and change.
I spent several years doing hands on research and was so determined to find as many herbs, plants and foods as I could and explain their benefits. I knew enough about everything from millet to elderberry, linden, cashews or raisins, and my partner and I really enjoyed our work.
The store and its growth were demanding. For years it was basically being there at 7:00 in the morning, leaving at 12:00 midnight every day. I remember the big debate about opening on Sundays. New England had a strong tradition called the “blue laws” prohibiting shopping on a Sunday. Imagine that! We gave in to popular demand. Oy, seven days a week!
One night, my partner said to me, "Did you ever think of selling the store?" And I said, "Why, do you want to?" He said, "No, but it's weird. It just popped into my head." So I said, well, I guess if someone offered something, maybe I’d think about it. That was the end of the discussion.
The very next morning, this guy came into the store who we knew, who was the business manager for Swami Satchidananda’s Integral Yoga Institute. Swami Satchidananda was the yoga master who came over from India and made Hatha Yoga famous in the United States. All of these celebrities had him as their guru. He was also the yogi who opened up the Woodstock Festival. In the beginning of the Woodstock movie you see this long-haired yogi sitting on the stage welcoming everyone. That's Swami Satchidananda. They had a store down in New York, and they were looking to get another one. Their business manager came in and said, "I know you guys probably never thought of this, but Swamiji is interested in your store," and we just started cracking up because of the brief conversation the night before!!
So obviously we had to talk about it. My partner and I had been doing yoga and meditating, and at that point this “coincidence” seemed to be just another one of those cosmic things that validated synchronicity. We were trying to do the right thing, live the right way, and go in the right direction.
We actually used to go and talk to Swami Satchidananda for life advice (he lived close to the store) but also as a business consultant because he was a successful business man in his youth. He was the whole package. We were honored he was interested. We talked about it and we were open to selling the store to his group. It just seemed like, maybe, it was a good time for us to move on.
(Stay tuned for the story to continue and how Jerry made it to California!)