Rodale General Store

Rodale General Store

By J.F. Pirro

Rodale – the Lehigh Valley mega-publisher and the famous family name – has always stood as a symbol of sustainability, creativity and healthy living. The Rodales, and their progeny, are artists and activists, photographers, poets and painters, cyclists, growers, environmentalists, out-of-the-box progressive thinkers and sensible traditionalists
as well.

Today, visionary is probably the best word to describe Jerome Irving (J.I.) Rodale and his wife, Anna, who moved from New York City to a rural Emmaus where they bought a farm to live their dream life and start a company. An interest in chemical-free food and health led to the creation of Organic Farming and Gardening magazine in 1942 and Prevention magazine in 1950. After J.I. suffered a fatal heart attack in 1971, his son, Bob, took over and expanded organic gardening and farming and preventive health care into more far-reaching areas of organic living, active lifestyles and regenerative agriculture. After Bob died tragically in an auto accident while on a business trip in Moscow in 1990, Ardath, his widow, and their children carried the torch.

ThRodale-2e company, still headquartered in Emmaus and privately owned and operated, took organic food, healthy active living and environmental responsibility mainstream. Rodale now reaches some 75 million readers worldwide through its magazine brands – Men’s Health, Women’s Health, Prevention, Runner’s World, Running Times, Bicycling and Organic Gardening and through best-selling books like Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, former FDA Commissioner Dr. David Kessler’s The End of Overeating, The South Beach Diet series and Alicia Silverstone’s The Kind Diet plus its multi-media web sites and countless philanthropic activities.

So when Heidi Rodale, a senior adviser and board member at Rodale, Inc., had the idea of converting a one-time garage, beer distributor and landscaper’s hub into the Rodale General Store, it was no surprise.

Once an eyesore at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and South Tenth Street – the gateway to Rodale’s headquarters – the bright, trendy store joins a campus that already includes a childcare facility, food center, walking trails and a fitness center in addition to publishing headquarters, though some of Rodale’s operations are now based in New York.

“We decided to make this our billboard,” says Heidi, J.I.’s granddaughter and Bob’s daughter who serves as general manager of the store. “You can’t stand still. We always distributed through others (and still do), but we decided to try this experiment. The store is a testing ground. It’s sort of like our outlet store.”

The General Store is a source for Rodale’s books and magazines, but also related products – gifts, organic food, seeds and gardening supplies, coffee and tea, fresh eggs from one of the family farms along Cedar Crest Boulevard and plant sales in the spring – all designed to bring the community in. Hardcovers sell for $10, and softcover books for $5. All magazines – current issues – are $1 off the cover price. There’s a 50 percent discount off popular new Rodale releases, including Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health, which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for 99 weeks (through early February) and Prevention’s The Sugar Smart Diet: Stop Cravings and Lose Weight While Still Enjoying the Sweets You Love! which debuted on the first New York Times bestseller List of 2014. There are also older books, including biographies, general interest, cookbooks and an old seed display counter full of gardening books.

This is grassroots. It’s experimental, but we feel the time is right. It’s just a new spin on things.

There are books, too, which tell the family’s story like Our Roots Run Deep: The Story of Rodale, a gorgeous, full-color 2009 coffee table edition loaded with photos and memorabilia. “It’s my father’s story, my grandfather’s story. It’s our story,” Heidi says. “Rodale’s message hasn’t changed. It’s about healthy living, healthy food, fitness and caring for the environment. It’s a message that’s always been important to us, and a message that keeps coming around.”

Heidi’s sister Maria Rodale, chairman and CEO at Rodale, Inc., has recently launched, an eco-friendly e-commerce site, that sells organic apparel, accessories, skin care and beauty products and more. The Rodale General Store, innovation in its own right, also exhibited for the first time in March at the Philadelphia Flower Show, sharing space with Organic Gardening magazine.

“We’re always promoting ourselves and trying new things,” Heidi says. “Some big things, some small. This is grassroots. It’s experimental, but we feel the time is right. It’s just a new spin on things.” The new directions and innovation, perhaps, are also allowing these Rodales to add their own chapter to the company’s extraordinary history.

Rodale-1“I don’t know that we look at it like it’s our imprint,” Heidi says. “There’s just constant give and take and evolving. We want it all to be profitable. We don’t do things just to do them, or just for our own satisfaction. We want everything to make money so that we have more money to give back to other things including philanthropic interests.”

Part Rodale nostalgia, the family’s 1976 Volkswagen bus is parked inside the store. Virtually in mint condition, the bus had been stored in Heidi’s barn for 20-plus years. “We decided to bring it out and use it as a prop,” she says. “People see it through the windows and they come in just to tell us about their old VW bus or van.” An enlarged black-and-white photo inside the bus is special: It features Bob Rodale and five young grandchildren and a neighbor, circa late 1980s, a few years before his death.

Bob bought that VW second-hand. He would search for VW beetles and other VWs while riding his bicycle. He’d stop, ask and sometimes broker a deal. “He was never going to buy a luxury car,” Heidi says. “A Volkswagen was just a basic, German, well-run, efficient, sensible car.”

Foot traffic into the general store has been good, and when folks find their way, and get on (or at least near) the bus, she says, “They love it. They say it just smells good and feels good. The store gives off a good vibe.”

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