A Natural Place To Be: Full Circle Market – Winchester Sun
When you walk through the door of Full Circle Market for the first time, you are greeted by the pleasant aroma of spices, homemade dishes and natural health products.
The next thing they’ll be greeted with is a friendly smile from Laura Sheehan. She has owned and operated the market, located at 1988 Bypass Rd., for over 21 years.
Sheehan is from Somerset, Kentucky, and moved to the Central Commonwealth area to attend Eastern Kentucky University. After graduating from college, Sheehan spent time as a seasonal ranger for the US National Parks Service.
“I’ve worked in Yellowstone, Mammoth Cave, and the Great Smoky Mountains,” she said.
Sheehan mainly worked in the campground and helped with trail chores. During this time, she began exploring local health food stores.
“Whenever I was in a national park, I would look for local businesses and health food stores,” Sheehan said.
Eventually she felt the call to return to Kentucky, and in the late 1990s she and her husband settled in the Winchester area. Health food stores were never far from his mind.
“I felt like coming back to Kentucky that small towns needed healthy options. We need places to get things that are natural. I felt called to do this,” Sheehan said.
Based on demographic research and Winchester’s location near I-64 and Mountain Parkway, Sheehan felt the community could support a health food store.
Full Circle Market opened in 2001 in the mall behind the Winchester Kroger, and at that time it was hard to find healthy food options.
“You couldn’t find these items in the big box stores. You couldn’t find a loaf of bread at Kroger that didn’t contain high fructose corn syrup. You couldn’t find a coconut that wasn’t sweet. You couldn’t find jams and jellies sweetened with fruit juices instead of sugar,” Sheehan said.
It was also difficult to find a place to buy specialty items like bulk flaxseed.
The market initially had 64 bulk bins, but customers repeatedly requested smaller quantities.
“The more I learned about inventory and how fresh things were, it made more sense for us to just wrap things up and put them on the shelf,” Sheehan said.
Nor was the success of the market entirely down to luck.
“I worked hard and still work hard,” Sheehan said. “I didn’t hire anyone for four years; I think when you open a small business, you have to be realistic that it takes time.
Being realistic also means adapting to the times, especially when big retailers start offering healthier products and a global pandemic turns the script on what a typical day looks like.
“We’re facing things that post-pandemic and competing with other retailers that have posed challenges that we really didn’t anticipate,” Sheehan said.
At the height of the pandemic in 2020, shoppers started using curbside pickup, delivery services and going to a single store to avoid being surrounded by multiple larger crowds.
The market never closed, offered curbside service and maintained modified opening hours, but as the pandemic enters its third year, Sheehan said the challenge was to get people to return to do their purchases in person.
“Everyone’s shopping habits have changed,” she said. “I’m so grateful that everyone found everything they needed, but do you still need to order from Amazon all the time?”
Sheehan and the market employees try to make the space as welcoming as possible and provide excellent customer service.
“You can’t get that on the internet,” Sheehan said.
The market has also started selling products that are hard to find at commercial retailers, such as specialty supplements.
The marketplace offers a personalized customer service experience for people in the nascent stage of a healthier journey.
“Often customers want to talk to someone before picking them up. They have a lot of questions and have never used it before,” Sheehan said. “So we really started screening the supplements. There are many synthetic supplements… So when you walk in, you know whatever vitamin, supplement, or body care item you buy, there is nothing artificial or synthetic in it.
Sheehan said the market has also shifted to making ready-to-go meals as customer habits shifted towards this preference five years ago.
“I was asked to come and help set up the kitchen and our take-out section because I already had experience,” said the store’s kitchen manager, Katie Wallace.
Wall said she loves “working with food” and produces the market’s acclaimed chicken salad and beer cheese.
“They’re quick, easy and good,” customer Geraldine Branham said of the takeout options.
The market also offers locally sourced honey and eggs.
Sheehan said the next evolution of the market is to make it a “space where people hang out and don’t just come shopping.”
The market already has an outdoor seating area with docking stations for mobile devices.
Two art students from George Rogers Clark High School are in talks with Sheehan to paint a mural on this side of the building, and if all goes well, the market may start hosting music and dance classes. live yoga in the future.
And as times change, the need for human connection and a connection to the natural world will keep people coming back to places like Full Circle Market.