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Natural Awakenings Charlotte

Natural Products and Environmental Advocacy in Gaston County

Renée Southard is owner of Organic Marketplace, a natural food and supplements store in Gastonia, and President of SENPA, a national non-profit with the core focus of strengthening the success of independent natural retailers and aligned manufacturers, while nourishing their human connection with consumers.

Natural Awakenings recently caught up with Renée for an update on her business as well as her role with SENPA.


NA: What prompted you to open Organic Marketplace?

RS: I was having health issues I'd never experienced before and found that herbs took care of them. That led me to open the store in 1992 in an 800-square-foot space that sales reps told me was hard to find but rent was only $1,000 a month.

Back then, it was just me working seven days a week. I kept a card catalog of my customers, and on days when no one walked through the door, I'd call them to ask how the product they purchased was treating them. I became involved in their lives. To this day, their children and their children's children come in and tell me they remember me. There is absolutely nothing better than being in business for 30 years and having three generations come in.


NA: How has the store changed over the years?

RS: While herbs and supplements are great, grocery stores at that time didn't carry the cleaner foods needed to support the body with nutrition. A few years in, I went from a supplements store to a food market. We expanded, then eventually moved to a 5,000-square-foot two-level former fire station that's literally behind my house. We've been in this location for 20 years.

We added raised beds out back and opened a little organic restaurant downstairs. I'm a single woman who raised two sons, and I eventually found another woman who is an amazing chef and needed a pay-it-forward. I gave Carla Sinteff the opportunity to have her own business within my business. I have nothing to do with the restaurant anymore, which is the beauty of it.


NA: Protecting the environment is very important to you. How does this manifest in the operations of Organic Marketplace? 

RS: We have been bag-free for eight years and always look for minimal packaging. We still have a bulk section, and we tare peoples' containers. We are getting ready to renovate and I'm talking to my landlord about putting solar panels on the roof and doing other things to be more sustainable, give power back to the grid or power our own store. We've also always been a sustainability leader in our community. We talk to schools and serve on the board of Keep Gastonia Beautiful.


NA: How did Covid impact your business and team?

RS: We were not closed one single day, and I am so proud that we didn't have one infected employee. That's a tribute to our industry. We know what a virus is, and we know how to deal with it. We were very consistent with our masking and cleaning policies. Through all the craziness, we learned what resiliency and community are all about—and we learned our place in the community. Even though we are small, we were able to be effective for so many people and have been tremendously supported because of that.


NA: How do you run your business and serve as President of SENPA?

RS: Every staff member is super educated. Some have been with me for 18 years, and we have a very cohesive team. While I’m still 100% involved in my business, my team is carrying the torch. With our goals at SENPA, I had to be more present, attend trade shows and go wherever the association needed me. My team has made this possible.


NA: What are some of SENPA’s goals?

RS: Just as my team has stepped up as I’ve taken on more responsibility at SENPA, we’re teaching owners to look to the next generation for a succession path. To proactively plan now versus waiting until a sickness or family illness forces you to make a rash decision and leave your business. It means giving yourself time to look at your staff and environment and see who shows a real desire to make a difference in people's lives. That's why we all came into this business, and now we're the dinosaurs, so it's time to teach and empower these so-called kids.

Next, we're going to have to hit the advocacy button again. My passion is building industry advocacy to the level we had when the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) which required manufacturers of dietary supplements ensure their products met DSHEA and FDA regulations passed, when we had Sen. Hatch and many other supporters in Congress.

Contrary to what many think, the natural products industry is diligently monitored. As a good steward of our business, we want to let our state and federal legislators know we are the experts in our field. My most important task as president of SENPA is educating key people of this so that we have a seat at the table when issues arise. 


NA: What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

RS: I love my yard. I love to garden. I love to be in blue water. I have a beautiful labradoodle, Raven, who is a little rockstar. I love that my life doesn't run from the moment my eyes wake up to the moment I go to sleep. I have time to breathe, put my hands in the dirt and sit back and watch, smell and feel it grow. I have time to appreciate things now, and I am beyond grateful.


Organic Marketplace is located at 1012 S. New Hope Rd in Gastonia. For more information, call 704-864-0605 or visit For more information on SENPA, visit Connect with Renée Southard at [email protected].



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