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Nature’s Products - (The info below is and article from "Detroit Blogspot" -
http://www.detroitblog.org/?m=200708) The city contains hundreds of neat little places; small stores or restaurants or shops tucked deep inside neighborhoods, too small for advertising budgets or media attention, which get by on their owners’ devotion, loyal regulars and word of mouth.
They’re often cool little niche businesses, the kind that have mostly vanished in an age of mega-malls and superstores. Often the person behind the counter is the owner, someone who has spent most of their life pouring their labor and resources into their humble little shops or diners, usually found in modest buildings, in crumbling neighborhoods, far outside the fanfare and optimism that prevail downtown.
Nature’s Products, located on Conant south of Seven Mile, is one of those places. Hidden behind an unassertive façade on a small road, the bulk herbs store has been in its location for 29 years, quietly catering to the old-fashioned health care needs of the area’s mostly poor, black residents, who’ve used herbs for years as part of their health care traditions.
“Where did most Detroiters come from? The big influx in World War II,” said Gary Wanttaja, the 48-year-old owner of the store. “You got all these people moving in from down south, a lot of people who came from down south were poor, a lot of them were black, and if you were black 50 years ago and you went to a doctor, the doctor might say ‘I’m sorry you’re the wrong color, I can’t treat you.’ So a lot of people were forced either through poverty or for whatever reason to go to some alternative, which was herbs. You couldn’t afford to go to a doctor and you’ve got someone with a temperature of 104, you’re not going to sit there and watch them die on you, you’re going to look for something.”
His store looks like a magic potion room, with neat rows of tinted jars lined on old wooden shelves, each jar full of mysterious powders, granules or leaves of various colors and textures. Goldenseal and Echinacea are the best sellers, Wanttaja said, particularly during the winter months of cold and flu. A small bookshelf offers various guides to herbs and their uses. Though Wanttaja will provide customers a little historical background on the herbs he carries, he won’t give medical advice. He said he doesn’t have to, anyway.
“The people in this neighborhood, they know about the herbs,” he said. “They grew up on it, or their parents used it or their grandparents used it, so it was already in their awareness. People in the suburbs now might say ‘oh I read about Echinacea somewhere’ or ‘Ginkgo does this.’ They’ll read an article about it and they go running around looking for it, but it’s not in the culture per se.”
The tough economic times in this state, and the even tougher state of the neighborhoods, have taken their toll. “People are hanging on by their toenails,” Wanttaja said. “I’ve seen so many customers that have left. I’ve had customers come here in the last two years and say ‘it’s been nice knowing you.’ Where you going? ‘I’m going down south’ or ‘going out west.’ They’re splitting. They can’t raise their family here.”
Unlike other small businesses leaving Detroit, Wanttaja says he’s stayed in the city all these years despite the high costs and erratic city services, and the emptying of the neighborhood. “I’m trying to support the city,” Wanttaja said. “But I don’t know how much longer I can continue doing that.”
Nature’s Products is located at 20020 Conant. Hours are 10 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Tuesday through Friday and 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. Closed Sunday and Monday. For more information, call (313) 891-3900.
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