Natural food store owner hopes to find a touch of nature in Florida Keys CARROLL COUNTY FARM/BUSINESS

December 31, 1992|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,Staff Writer

The smell of vanilla mixed with coconut permeates A Touch of Nature, filling every corner of the natural food store with a scent reminiscent of pina coladas and tropical islands.

Within the year, however, owner Peggy Taylor will trade the aromas for the real thing as she sells her business and retires to the Florida Keys.

"I started thinking about this when I bought a house in the Florida Keys about a year and a half ago," said Ms. Taylor, who has operated the shop since for 11 years. "The Keys are nothing like mainland Florida. It's like a tropical island, laid back and sort of crazy.

"Each time I went down, it became more difficult to come back."

A vegetarian for nearly 20 years, Ms. Taylor bought the business almost on a whim when she heard that the former owner was trying to sell it.

The 56-year-old Roland Park native patronized the store in the Carrolltowne Mall when she visited her parents at the nearby Fairhaven retirement community in Sykesville.

"I think my original thought was panic," she said. "I joked with my ex-husband, 'Where am I going to shop now?' and he said, 'Let's buy the store.' "

With no retail experience whatsoever, the former medical secretary and assistant dove into the business with a sense of self-assurance that her belief in her products would carry her through.

Ms. Taylor earned her associate's degree from Villa Julie College in 1956, and worked with in a "traditional medical setting" after that, she said.

"I'd never even touched a cash register," said Ms. Taylor, with a sparkle in her gray-brown eyes. "But I believe so much in what I am selling. I live this way, and it's what I believe."

Disenchantment with the medical system she had worked with for so long and the change she felt in herself after giving up meat and dairy products led her to promote natural foods.

"I felt so good," Ms. Taylor said about her health when a doctor suggested that she should give up meat for a brief period after an operation. "[The doctor] told me he'd never had a patient follow his directions so well as to buy a health food store."

Resurrecting the business was difficult, because the former owner had let his inventory run down.

"It almost would have been easier to start from scratch," Ms. Taylor said. "There were a lot of disgruntled people, because they couldn't get what they needed."

But personalized service and her willingness to special-order supplies revitalized the store.

With a hug for a customer leaving on vacation and a promise to VTC order goat cheese for another, she maintains the atmosphere of a neighborhood hangout where people drop in to talk.

"I try to build a rapport with my customers," Ms. Taylor said.

"I always try to remember something about each one of them, so that I can call them by name and have something to connect with them," she said.

"A lot of health food products can be bought in a drug store or a grocery store. But here, we can look up things in books, find recipes and talk with them."

Her personalized service has created quite a following, said Jim Pino, her co-worker and life partner.

"People travel from out of county to see her," said Mr. Pino, 37. "Not just for the store, but for the personal touch she has for things.

Ms. Taylor's association with Fairhaven also expanded her second love -- teaching aerobics and exercise classes to senior citizens and mentally disabled adults.

In addition to leading Fairhaven and Sykesville Eldercare residents through stretching and relaxation exercises, she is an instructor at Aspire, a day treatment center for adults.

"When I was in my new-life period, I began taking yoga classes," she said.

Later, she combined yoga and aerobic exercises into a method she calls "yoga-trim."

"I love it," she said. "It's what I want to do in Florida."

Ms. Taylor's eagerness to leave for Florida is tempered with a bit of sadness for leaving her native state. Her two grown children are in Maryland, she loves Carroll County and said she plans to rent her Westminster home so she can keep some ties to the area.

"I took a walk downtown today, and waved to everybody I know," Ms. Taylor said. "That part is like the Keys -- everyone knows everyone and is very helpful."

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