As he recalled over 40 years of serving the health-conscious community, 73-year-old co-owner Steve Shapiro wiped a forming tear from his eye.
, on Morris Street in Morristown and in Chester, has been much more to him than just a business.
But, unless a buyer can be found, that business will shutter its doors to customers at the end of June.
"It's devastating for us," said Shapiro, who opened the original Morristown location with brother Herb in 1970. Chester followed in 1977. Smaller locations in Montclair (1978) and Parsippany (1983), were closed last year.
Shapiro partially credits . The business lost about $100,000 from damage, which insurance was unable to reimburse. The business had to take loans to stay afloat, as rent and merchandise costs continue to climb.
"Right now we work for the landlord," he said.
The other reason, Shapiro said, is that both owners are in their 70s, and it's time to retire. . Shapiro said that had nothing to do with his store's closure. "That would have been good for us," he said. "No, the decision was made long before."
While health food markets have gone mainstream with the rise of operations like Whole Foods, a place like The Health Shoppe was a far more unique prospect when the Shapiro brothers opened in the Morristown store's original 900 square feet over four decades ago. "We sold vitamins, some food and produce that was not refrigerated. It was in boxes," Shapiro said. "We used to go to the airport to pick up organic produce from California."
Over the course of several upgrades, the Morristown location has grown to 7,200 square feet, selling a full line of goods, from vitamins to cereals, produce to prepared meals.
For those that have been employed with The Health Shoppe for years, it still is a unique operation.
"We have had people cry. They don't know what to do," said Vitamain Department Manager Jim Maze, who has been with The Health Shoppe for 12 years. "People are upset."
Caitlin Karosen, of Cedar Knolls, was upset when she found out Wednesday morning. "There's something special about an independent health food store," she said as she ordered a smoothie from the deli, which will be closing in the next few days.
Shawn Kellner, an employee for five years, said he chain smoked when he started working for The Health Shoppe. It was the atmosphere and the knowledge of the people he worked with that helped change his ways. "It's just sad," he said.
While the Shapiro's will not be continuing with The Health Shoppe, Steve Shapiro said he has been in talks with several interested buyers. If an offer is made but not finalized by the end of June, the store will stay open as the process continues. "We won't go anywhere," he said.
Even if none of those deals are made, General Manager Leslie Serao, part of the company for 13 years, is optimistic something will fill the large hole The Health Shoppe's departure will create.
"There will be demand. It won't be long," she said. "We just want everyone to stay positive. Employees will find their way. It's the best for everyone involved, even if it's sad."
It's noticeably sad for Steve Shapiro, who has spent more than half his life in The Health Shoppe.
Shapiro said he has been awake half the night, thinking about the store and its future. "I was 28 years old when we started it. I was a kid," he said.
"I just want to thank everyone for their support," Shapiro added. "It's a crime. But, it'll be a good opportunity for someone. It just hurts our hearts to see this happen."