When I lived in that neighborhood in the mid-1980s, there was -- and still is -- a somewhat grungy little supermarket down at 40th and Main and a long-forgotten independent grocery store, the J&G Market, at 43rd and Oak (the building is now owned by the Kansas City Art Institute), so there was certainly no shortage of places to shop for staples like milk, bread and such.
But at that time, Clearly Nature's Own was one of the few places in midtown that sold organic food items, fresh tofu, a selection of bottled organic juices, frozen vegetarian entrees, bulk grains, and other interesting things -- including carry-out vegan foods created by local restaurateur Zoe LeGrece -- that couldn't be found in more mainstream supermarkets. By the end of the 1980s, however, the powerful traditional supermarket chains had realized that it wasn't just Birkenstock-wearing hippies and alternative-lifestyle folks who wanted tofu amd tempeh. Many customers wanted those things and were also ready for free-range meats, vegetarian sandwich mixes, unprocessed foods and sugar-free baked goods.
Slowly, but then more ambitiously, chain grocery stores started stocking their shelves with soy milk, R.W. Knudensen's lemon ginger echinacea drink and other items formerly only found in places dismissed as "health food stores."
True, national chains such as Whole Foods -- sort of alternative supermarkets -- had a more glorious array of these products, but they were predominantly located in suburban neighborhoods, far enough from the urban core that shopping there was a chore. These stores weren't cluttered and slightly claustrophic like the old Clearly Nature's Own (and its subsequent incarnations), but they also lacked the distinctive charm of smaller shops like the one at 4301 Main.
But if it hadn't been for culinary pioneers like Clearly Nature's Own and other independently owned stores like it, there wouldn't be chains like Whole Foods or boxes of tofu on the shelves at your local Price Chopper. So let's raise a glass of fresh-squeezed carrot juice in the memory of Clearly Nature's Own.