JOHNSTOWN - Randy Siegle was painting the inside of his North Comrie Avenue store before it opened in August when he started to see little notes and packages on his doorknob every day he showed up for work.
Curious, he opened them every day. And sure enough, the notes were from customers so excited about the prospect of a gluten-free store in Johnstown that they could not contain themselves from placing little suggestions on the door, asking him to stock certain items in his store that they could not find anywhere else. They couldn't wait for the store to open, the notes said, and when it did, they would patronize it by coming to purchase the all-natural, gluten-free items they had requested.
Siegle was flattered.
The Leader-Herald/Zach Subar
Amsterdam resident Cynthia Althouse, right, buys groceries at For The Health Of It, a new gluten-free store in Johnstown, on Tuesday as store co-owner Nancy Siegle rings up her purchase.
"You're always wondering if you're doing the right thing," he said. "But when you come to work and see things like that, it's encouraging."
Siegle's store is called Just For The Health Of It, and the vast majority of its products do not contain gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye and barley, which means the casual visitor will notice pasta made from brown rice, wheat-free cinnamon sugar doughnuts and and chips made from rice instead of flour.
It's an effort, in part, to assist those who suffer from celiac disease. People who have the illness are unable to digest gluten products because when they do, the protein attacks their small intestine, causing damage.
Siegle had been discussing the idea with his wife, Nancy, since 2006. Nancy has celiac disease, and she said finding food for herself, instead of being a pleasurable experience, always was "like a mission."
Recently, Randy Siegle was injured at work and he had enough time to look into the particulars of creating a gluten-free store. After that, planning for it began in earnest, and the Bleecker residents now run the store together.
But the store does not only cater to those who cannot eat gluten. Lots of people, including many who do not have celiac disease, have come into the store to select from the all-natural soaps, shampoos, hair dyes and tea the store sells, he said.
"If a big grocery store or a big chain can't move it, they don't want it," Siegle said. "There is a handful of people who want items that are not sold popularly. That's why we're here. You're not going to go to the store next door and pick up [stress relief product] Rescue Remedy."
He said people are more in tune today with what they put in their bodies. There were hardly any gluten-free options at all in the area three years ago, he said, and he and Nancy would have to drive to Albany or Schenectady to buy her food.
Now there's more to offer. The recent opening of Mohawk Harvest, a cooperative market on North Main Street in Gloversville, also shows people want more than the majorbrand-name foods that large supermarkets or other chain stores provide.
"I do think that people are more aware of thinking about the relationship between what you eat and how you feel," Cornell Cooperative Extension of Fulton and Montgomery Counties Nutrition and Health Extension Educator Roseann Doran said. "I think that the existence now of the food co-op and the [gluten-free] market certainly is good for folks in the area who are looking for alternatives."
"We're definitely a meat and potatoes town, by far, but the natural organic thing-it's coming around," he said. "It's actually the fastest growing food market."
Shoppers at the store on Tuesday perused its offerings, picking up wheat-free pizza crust to take home and asking the Siegles if they would add certain products to their shelves.
Siegle said the store craves such recommendations, and often takes its customers up on them by buying requested products from distributors as far away as Michigan and Florida.
One shopper, Rotterdam resident Esther Miller, said she was pleased with the store's selection. Miller has celiac disease.
"I've found what I like, and when you have this problem, it's very hard to find what you like," she said.
The Siegles said they spend a good percentage of their waking hours at the store. They are making money on its gluten-free products, and investing most of its profits back into the store.
They are enjoying every minute of the ride.
"It's great meeting the different people that come through the doors-it's rewarding in itself," Siegle said. "And just the support. It seems like every day you get someone telling you 'I'm glad that you're here.'"
The store is at 300 N. Comrie Ave. and is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Its phone number is 848-3964.
Zach Subar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.