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Manitou goes natural

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A few years ago my favorite Manitou laundromat was suddenly converted to a law office. What a waste of space and location seemed to be the general neighborhood consensus. We all agreed there were better uses for that space than housing lawyers. Topping the list of possible uses was a neighborhood grocery store or small market -- a place to shop for essentials and maybe catch up on community gossip. Something between the mega-Safeway and the dinky Seven-Eleven up the street.

Perhaps local business entrepreneurs Wayne and Erin Chambers (of Boulder Street Coffee Roasters fame) were eavesdropping on that particular conversation, because shortly afterward, the law office was gone and the little purple building across from Soda Springs Park again sat vacant. Soon, there was movement in and around the vacated space and then Manitou Natural appeared -- not just a market, but a natural foods market.

The store is so convenient for those of us who live in Manitou that in spite of a first-week visit that lowered my expectations somewhat, I continued to stop in for miscellaneous items: a lemon, some Luna Bars, toilet paper, olive oil, a box of pasta, syrup, toothpaste.

Then one day I stopped in to pick up some eggs (cage-free, chemical-free and hormone-free). I also found myself picking up items for dinner that evening, as well as lunch items for the next few days, some deodorant because I was running low, a bag of tamari-roasted pumpkin seeds because they'd be good on the slopes, and echinacea tea because 'tis the season for runny noses.

I also figured I'd stock up on my absolute favorite -- Annie's brand of mac and cheese -- some fresh blood oranges which had just come in and caught my eye, a couple of apples, bananas and a kiwi.

Then I realized I was doing full-fledged food shopping. Manitou Natural had grown into its name and expectations.

Now in its third full month of business, Manitou Natural boasts all the basic ingredients you'd expect from a natural foods store. The place is only three aisles wide, but hey, it's Manitou, which is known for squeezing amazing things into small spaces.

Fully stocked with popular brands like Annie's, Newman's, Horizon, Knudsons, Tom's of Maine and Dessert Essence, a selection of organic cheeses, juices, fruits, bulk nuts, wheats, grains and dried fruits, coffees, teas, tofu and other fake meats and a variety of soy and spelt products, the tiny market satisfies most anyone's need for purely natural food items.

And if you're not out looking for rutabagas or Brussels sprouts, the veggie selection is more than adequate. Green leaf and red leaf lettuce sit next to fresh spinach leaves and a bin of already mixed salad greens for those on the fly. On the shelves above are fresh, organic peppers, zucchinis, mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumbers, avocados, broccoli, red and yellow onions, carrots, lemons, fresh garlic and ginger -- and off to the left are potatoes.

Organic pastas and sauces, bean dips, snack foods, juices, soy milks, various canned goods, rice cakes and breads (spelt breads also available), jam the next aisle over, and a myriad of vitamins, aromatherapy products, shampoos, deodorants, toothpaste, beauty products, natural cold remedies, a huge variety of energy bars and three flavors of my favorite Peelu Gum made me very happy in the third aisle.

Long range plans for Manitou Natural include adding a deli. For now, they offer freshly brewed organic coffee each morning and a pot of homemade soup in the afternoons.

Also available to go, or for quick consumption, are various freshly made pot pie-like items, pockets and a variety of cold juices, organic sodas and sparking waters. Word has it sandwiches will be available come summer (tourist) time.

While some of the larger grocery stores have glommed on to the natural foods craze and stocked their shelves with similar name brands, it's somehow not the same as frequenting the smaller, natural neighborhood stores like this one or Mountain Mama's, closer to downtown. There's just something disconcerting about the corporate, impersonal atmosphere and florescent lighting of a mega-chain when buying products whose proceeds benefit the rainforest or the downtrodden farmer.

And seeing as Manitou Springs and its inhabitants are often perceived as being on the more organic side of the fence anyway, it is exciting to finally have a natural foods store to help substantiate the image. Now you can really go natural in Manitou.

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