Unlimited Vitality closes
The shelves are sparsely stocked the day before Unlimited Vitality shut its doors after 23 years in business– but then, the shelves had always seemed sparsely stocked.
The poster, “If You Love Me, Don’t Feed Me Junk,” is down, and owner Uldine Chandler, 69, politely informs a visitor that the coveted souvenir of one of Charlottesville's most unusual stores isn't for sale.
But amid the quiet grace of the going-out-of business sale that concluded on the final day of May, Unlimited Vitality had its critics. The shop, located at 400 East Market Street was occasionally derided as “Unlimited Hostility.”
“I was always afraid to go in there,” says one longtime Charlottesvillian. “It was so uninviting.”
Tales of customers accused of shoplifting and reports of bickering owners abound.
That is not the case, however, on May 30, Unlimited Vitality’s next-to-last day.
Ron Chandler, 75, offers a visitor a cup of herbal tea and expounds on his philosophy of selling discount health products: “Our prices are based on what we can give rather than what we can get.”
It’s an emotional day. Recounting how he got into the health food business, Ron chokes back tears a number of times.
The Chandlers’ journey toward healthy living started with Abundavita, a food supplement that stopped Ron’s back pain and cured Uldine’s migraines.
Ron digresses to lament that no one today gets enough Vitamin C, and to describe how a load of steel once fell on his foot. After ingesting a box of Vitamin C, he says, he didn’t lose a single toenail.
Chandler says he ran a health food store in Phoenix that was “hugely successful.” After coming to Charlottesville in 1971, he sold ads for the Daily Progress for seven years until a guy (“not my boss”) told him to shut up, and “I told him to go to hell.” The next Monday morning, Chandler says, he was fired.
“Get to the point where we open the store,” interjects Uldine.
The Chandlers decided to get back in the health food business, but leasing the store, which is owned by the Odd Fellows Lodge upstairs, was not easy because they had no bank references.
Ron points to where big pictures of Jesus used to hang, saying, “This makes me cry.” He pauses, then continues. “I walked up the street and thought there was no chance we were going to get this building. And when we did, I said, ‘Thank you, Jesus, thank you.’”
Customers trickle in as Ron reminisces. At one point, the store was so busy it had four cash registers, he says. Today there’s no waiting at the one remaining register, and the scent of jasmine soap is heavy in the air.
The Chandlers didn’t launch a going-out-of-business sale because everything is already discounted, they say. “We ain’t going to have any inventory left over,” predicts Ron. “People have been stocking up like you wouldn’t believe.”
The biggest change in the local health food business Ron has seen is the arrival of Whole Foods. “Some said it wouldn’t make a difference,” he says. “It definitely made a difference. It’s almost like Wal-Mart coming to town and stores closing down.”
Even if their lease hadn’t run out, Ron says, “We’d be crazy if we continued the store.”
There were other troubles in the customer relations department. In the early ‘90s, a warrant was issued for Ron’s arrest after a customer accused Ron of slapping him. “It was the biggest damn lie ever,” Ron says. Uldine agrees that when Ron stuck out his arm defensively, the customer claimed Ron hit him. “And we’d special ordered stuff for him,” Ron adds indignantly.
Sandy McAdams at Daedalus Bookshop down the street has his own memories. “You won’t believe the number of girls who came in here in tears after going in that store,” he says. “They were always questioning people who came into the shop about whether they were stealing.”
His reaction to the news that Unlimited Vitality’s days were numbered: “I’m so glad they’re closing. They’re nasty people.”
McAdams relents a bit. “Obviously I don’t want to make them feel bad, but they were quite dreadful.”
One former customer, who does not want to be named and whom Ron once asked for permission to search his backpack, treasures the store for its quirky individuality. He says its closing will leave a gap in eccentric downtown shopping venues– as well as make it hard to find low-priced vitamins.
Ron has a new venture selling a miracle product called Calorad® over the internet. Uldine hopes to stay in the health food business in some capacity, as much out of necessity as desire: “When you operate on a low mark-up, you don’t have a lot of cash,” she notes.
Even critic McAdams concedes, “You have to give them credit that they lasted that long.”Read more on: unlimited vitality