OC Organics doesn’t have the name recognition of Whole Foods or the bargain bins of Wal-Mart, but the mom-and-pop — or sister-sister — marketplace prides itself on finding a way to meet customers’ needs individually at an affordable price.
Co-owners and sisters Heather Layton and Kristie “Kiki” Williams, former longtime employees of the store, took it over earlier this year aiming to maintain its personalized but diverse shopping experience while also expanding its horizons.
“We don’t have the same discounts but we really try to work hand-in-hand with the reps to try to keep the prices as low as possible,” Layton said. “People are always shocked — our produce, even though we are independently owned, hands down, is superior. Even the price point — we’re right there with the big superstores as far as produce, especially.”
Another wrinkle patrons won’t find at most other organic markets — Williams is a certified nutrition specialist and licensed dietician nutritionist. The extent to which she can translate labels for customers and help them make smart purchases is vital to what the sisters say set them apart from the competition.
“We really listen to customers as far as what we stock,” Williams said. “If it’s something they found somewhere over the bridge or that they want to try, we’ll pull it in for them. We order things for people all the time. I don’t think you’re going to find that at the bigger places.”
They hope that their independent background and local flavor helps bring new people in.
“Even though the store has been here for over 20 years, we hear almost daily people say they’d been driving past here for years and it’s their first time in,” Layton said. “If the pandemic has taught anyone anything, I think it’s how important local, organic and health is. Kiki being a certified nutritionist, I mean, this girl is a wealth of information. People come in all the time and ask specifically for her, just because she knows.”
The selection at OC Organics is diverse. The marketplace offers “everything when it comes to what you think of for organic grocery,” Layton said.
Groceries, local produce, an herbal apothecary, supplements, protein powders, greens powders, herbs, vitamins, minerals, body care and makeup, fair-trade clothing, baby products and books are all housed under the same roof.
Customers will find food and products from an array of local vendors at OC Organics, among them Splendid Earth Acres near Berlin, Herbs and Spice in Selbyville, Goat Plum Tree Farm in Berlin, Nice Farms Creamery in Federalsburg and Brightman Farm in Princess Anne.
Owing to Williams’s certifications, the supplements they offer are “practitioner-grade,” she said, meaning just any merchant won’t carry them.
OC Organics offers bulk accommodations as well for items such as honey and laundry detergent where customers bring their own containers and fill up.
A lot of the business model focuses on eliminating as much plastic as possible, Williams said.
The sisters said they’re also looking to expand their boutique offerings and add a take-out service, which they hope to open next month. The menu will offer salads, soups and sandwiches. The takeout service will be able to accommodate vegan, gluten and allergy-free requests.
OC Organics got its start in 1989 when its original owner, Chris Wade, opened shop out of a garage. Wade and co-owner Skip Moore eventually moved to the busy Ocean Gateway corridor and built the strip that houses the marketplace today, right next to a freestanding Sherwin Williams paint store.
Last year, Wade and Moore approached the sisters about purchasing the shop.
“I think when they approached us to purchase the business, we were a little hesitant at first but then we (figured) it’s great for everybody,” Layton said. “We did not want to see this business change. It’s a sense of community here. We wanted it to stay as much as what everyone’s used to as possible.”
Moore passed away during the business’s transfer.
Mom-and-pop grocery is a part of the sisters’ heritage, too. Their great-grandparents owned the well-known, now-closed Shockley’s Beach Market, a former staple of the local beach experience.
“It’s just us (running this store) but I feel like it’s in our blood because our great-grandparents ran a grocery store for pretty much their entire adult lives,” Layton said. “And we work together. We work together really well.”
OC Organics is open year-round and seven days a week. Their hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday.