At age 17, Jane Lumsden opened Semilla Natural Foods in 1971 with her boyfriend at the time.
“We were excited about the natural foods and healthy lifestyle movement that was happening in the ‘70s. We left Santa Monica, Calif., and found Las Vegas, N.M. We decided this would be the perfect spot to open a natural foods store. Over the years as the natural foods movement grew, so did our store. Eventually, I became the sole owner and continued to expand and serve the community.”
Semilla’s growing clientele is a testament to Jane’s determination to bring a unique and much-needed shopping experience to the area. When COVID-19 forced closure of many businesses in March, Semilla Natural Foods remained open because as a grocery store, it was considered essential. Little did Jane and her staff know what an impact that would have.
“When restaurants closed and people were ordered to stay home, widespread panic about food and supplies shortages had people running in to buy as much groceries as their pantries and monies allowed,” Jane said. “Our business and our demand grew exponentially overnight. Myself and my employees had to put in more time and effort for the increased demand. Our store became a place where people needed to feel hopeful. On top of being able to provide the increasing grocery needs within our community, we also had to provide emotional and mental encouragement to our patrons.”
Semilla’s clientele grew as regular customers continued to come in to do their shopping, and new customers began to arrive from surrounding areas, people who didn’t want to be exposed to big cities like Santa Fe where they would usually do their shopping.
“We even had new customers from within our city come to us because they didn’t want to risk exposure at the big chain stores,” Jane said. “Our orders increased by three times and we also became a designated donation drop-off location for several groups that worked towards providing food to community members and to our local animal shelter. Our community stepped up in a huge way and the response to helping those in need was incredible. We donated cases of food ourselves.”
Jane said Semilla has a large elderly customer base so her priority was to make the store a safe space for them and consequently for all patrons and employees.
“We could not afford to have a single employee get sick and we were all working overtime. We had regular employee staff meetings to check in and make sure everyone felt safe coming to work as the rest of the country was staying home.
“I reiterated that anyone who felt uncomfortable coming to work or felt sick could stay home with pay. Not one employee hesitated about continuing to work, and I am so grateful to all of them,” Jane said.
Communication about safety continues to be a constant among staff. During store hours, masks are required for employees and customers, and social distancing is encouraged and adhered to as much as possible. For a time during heightened awareness of possible COVID-19 spread, Jane and her staff were required to limit the number of patrons allowed in the store.
“We began offering free curbside pick-up and at home delivery within city limits for patrons who didn’t want to risk exposure. Overall, our customers have been incredibly gracious and patient with us and our new policies,” Jane said.
With the state opening more and more, Semilla follows the state and city-mandated recommendations requiring customers and staff to wear masks.
“We’ve been able to team up with the Las Vegas Peace and Justice Center to provide masks to people who do not have one. We want to continue to be as safe as we can for our patrons. We all dislike having to wear our masks, but fully believe that it protects our customers. We will continue to honor what science tells us works.”
Business for Semilla increased because of the pandemic, but Jane’s concerns for her staff remained. “I wanted to make sure my employees were going to be taken care of in the long run. I applied for the PPP loan (Payroll Protection Program), and the SBA loan, mainly because I had no idea what the future was going to hold.
“Our application was not accepted during the first round of the PPP, but our bank, Community First, worked diligently to ensure that we were on the list for the second round. Las Vegas First IBA (Independent Business Alliance) and Luna Community College offered information and support during this time as requirements were continually changing. Thankfully, I had someone in-house who could navigate through this complicated process. The SBA loan took months to come in.”
As Jane reflects on COVID-19 and its lingering presence in a time of uncertainty, she is grateful.
“If I could say anything about these past few months, it’s that Semilla cares. My employees did an incredible job to make sure our community knew Semilla was a safe and welcoming space for all. We worked hard to keep our shelves stocked and adapt to people’s new shopping habits. We all came up with innovative ways to give back to our small community and we ensured everyone had access to fresh and healthy food.
“As people resume their previous shopping habits and begin to eat out, we have no idea what the future will bring for Semilla. Hopefully people will realize the importance of shopping locally, supporting local businesses so Las Vegas can once again pick up where we left off; at a time of exciting growth and recognition. We need to stick together. This is a great community,” Jane said.
“As things begin to open back up, COVID-19 is still a huge concern and we are going to continue to practice safe policies. Semilla will continue to offer the best in natural, wholesome foods and products for individual health and the health of our planet,” Jane said.
Images: Courtesy Semilla
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