One of Charlottesville’s oldest natural foods stores is closing this month, a sad development for its owner, staff and customers.
Rebecca’s Natural Food went up for sale in March but was unable to find a buyer before its lease runs out. Now the longest-tenured tenant at Barracks Road Shopping Center in the city will be closing its doors.
“We tried to find other people to take it over, but after a few dead ends, we were never able to find anyway else to step up to it, so we’ll have to liquidate,” store owner Norman Dill told The Daily Progress. “We’re very sad to see it go though. We’re hearing on and on about how wonderful the store is and ‘We wish you weren’t leaving.’”
The store, named for Dill’s daughter, opened in 1987. At the time, there were few natural food stores in the city.
Dill got the idea during his time working for Blue Mountain Natural Foods, which was located on West Main Street. He went back to school to get his Master of Business Administration, opened his own natural food store and has been running it ever since. Much of his staff have been working in the store for as long as two decades.
He spoke to The Daily Progress while sitting by the front door, many customers sending well wishes as they exited.
“It’s sort of sad to be here, but at the same time, it’s important for a sense of closure to be able to talk to people and hear how much the store meant to them,” Dill said.
Dill’s resume is longer than his tenure as Rebecca’s literal and figurative father.
He served as an Albemarle County supervisor, representing the Rivanna District from 2016 to 2019, and was co-owner of the Harlowe-Powell Auction Gallery, which he said closed roughly a decade ago.
But after turning 70, and dealing with some health issues, Dill decided to call it quits. In order to keep the shop he’d have to sign a five-year lease, and that’s too long of a commitment at this stage in his life.
“They’re just such good people,” Stu Rifkin, the business broker who tried to sell the shop, said of the Dills. “They just cared more about their staff than they did about finding a new buyer.”
The owners, Rifkin said, didn’t want their employees waiting in limbo. By making the decision before the end of the lease, it gives workers an opportunity to search for other jobs.
The biggest impediment to getting the store sold to an owner who could keep it up and running? Time.
“I think we just started the process too late. These things take time, and we didn’t really embark on the sale until spring and they were under the deadline of their lease,” Rifkin said. “If we’d started the process a year and half ago instead of half a year ago, we would have found a buyer I suspect.”
There’s been “plenty of interest” in the shop over the past 30 days from prospective buyers, Rifkin said, but the timeline is too tight to get a deal done.
It is not clear what will happen to the space once Rebecca’s vacates. Federal Realty, which rents out the spaces at Barracks, did not provide a response by press time.
“It’s a beautiful store with a great history and it’s well respected in the community. Maybe someone will fill in the gap,” Rifkin said.
Rebecca’s official last day will be Sept. 30.