The Haelan Centre hits 40

Amabel Booth talks us through forty years of healthy food and happy customers.

On October 29 the Haelan Centre will celebrate 40 years serving London’s Crouch End with everything from whole foods to eco-friendly household cleaners over two locations.

Today the stores are an established part of the local community. But when Nino Booth and Peter Woodhead founded the centre in 1971, their appearance, and their store’s exclusively organic offer, caused a stir with some locals.

“From the stories my Mum tells me they were seen as ‘the crazy people,’” laughs Booth’s daughter Amabel.

“My Dad has long hair and a beard – people tell me he looked like one of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers!”

“When it opened everything was self-service and they had big tubs of organic rice, grains and potatoes,” she continues.

“It was one of the very few places you could get organic food. I remember my father, even into the 90s, driving down to Covent Garden Market at 3am because that was the only place to get organic stock at the time.”

Organic roots

At first, growing the business proved challenging. But then, as consumers began to cotton on to the benefits of healthy eating, sales gradually improved.

By 1985 Booth, who had acquired full rights to the business, realised his dream to open a High Street whole foods store in Crouch End.

“One of my very first memories is seeing people set up the shelves in the new shop,” says Amabel, who was three at the time.

“To me it seemed absolutely huge. Dad used to have me in a sling while he served customers behind the till or put out stock. It’s lovely because some of those same customers come into the store and remember me as a baby.”

Sadly, Nino Booth died in 2001. But his daughter is passionate about continuing his legacy of providing “whole food and holistic health for everyone”.

“When supermarkets did finally start to offer organic food people asked if he was worried and he’d just say ‘no – that’s why I got into the business,’” she says

“We did take a hit because customers would drift off to the supermarkets for organic produce, but they’d always come back simply because ours was better.”

Digital futures

Booth is bringing her father’s founding values into the digital age through the Organic2YourDoor initiative.

“People know us at Crouch End, but we can now deliver our store’s ambient products anywhere in the UK in two days. Our delivery charge is £3.99 however much you order – or free if you live within two miles of the store,” she says.

“We’ll always have the building, but for us the future is really about online activity. The internet has changed the way we shop and if you aren’t online you’re missing out on so much.”

Holistic healing

In 1990 the store expanded into the Haelan Clinic, giving the local community access to a range of professional complementary and alternative health treatments. In 2011 the clinic developed even further to include a studio room, plus classes in everything from Yoga to herbal medicine.

In 2002, a Herbal Dispensary was also added, staffed by qualified medical herbalists offering free advice and dispensing tinctures and homeopathic remedies five days a week.

“It’s been huge,” says Amabel. “It means all our medical herbalists have access to a wide range of tinctures in-store.”

“EU law states that, before they’re dispensed herbal medicines, first-time customers have to be given a mini consultation, which we offer for £10,” she adds.

“It’s slightly inconvenient, but on the whole I think that’s legislation’s good for us because the industry’s more regulated, so there’s no room for charlatans. The public can be sure the herbs they’re being prescribed are appropriate.”