Several years ago, when Carol Simontacchi opened the Island Nutrition Center, she brought with her a wealth of knowledge about personal wellness, weight management and holistic health. Her loyal legion of readers — from her weekly column in the Sanibel-Captiva Islander, called "Holistic Health Notebook" — spread the word around town about her business, which quickly became the island's top destination for nutrition-conscious consumers.
However, for more than a year, Simontacchi hasn't been able to dedicate as much time or energy to her business as she would like to. She has been battling cancer, quietly and bravely.
During this time, her fans and followers may have wondered what had become of their favorite health guru or why she hasn't been around the store, located at 2330 Palm Ridge Road. There, she would often engage her customers in conversation, about their lives or her experiences, offering friendly advice or simply sharing a laugh. Many of them never knew of the struggle she now faces.
But the business is struggling, too.
According to Simontacchi, the store is "rapidly losing ground" since the beginning of the off-season.
"If you would like Island Nutrition Center to remain in existence, I need your help," she wrote late last month to friends and customers. "We are way below breaking point right now and I can't hold on to the store much longer."
Last week, one of Simontacchi's most devoted patrons, Edina Lessack, made an impassioned plea to her fellow islanders.
"I would miss not being able to purchase the wonderful products and supplements she carries in her store, and I know many others would as well," said Lessack. "If the community was made aware of her plight, they might help by buying some items on a regular basis."
Beth Burns, who is helping operate the Island Nutrition Center, reported that Simontacchi is aware of the ongoing movement to save the business, and she truly appreciates the effort.
"She has done so much for people out here over the years," said Burns. "I know that she really loves this community."
According to Burns, the store's popular Sanibel-Captiva Food Co-Op program — in which customers may join for $20 annually, or $10 for a half-year, and purchase fresh organic fruits, vegetables and meat products only 10 percent above wholesale prices — has dwindled in active members since the off-season began.
"You don't have to come in a buy $100 worth of merchandise, just stop in a buy a few things," said Burns. "Once a week you can call in and go online, order what you want, then come in on Wednesday afternoon and pick your order up."
As part of the Co-Op program, members are asked to help sort and package orders. However, this is only required once every eight weeks.
"The best thing is that you don't have to buy stuff you don't want," added Burns. "If the Co-Op idea works for you, and the schedule works, it's a great way to get the organic products you need at a fantastic price."
Customers are also given an opportunity to purchase "leftovers" from the Co-Op orders, which range from fresh veggies, herbs and fruits to juices, meats and fish. The store also sells a variety of gluten-free and dairy-free products, snacks, cereals, oils, vitamin supplements, powdered drinks, homeopathic, beauty and spa products and natural cleaning products.
"If everybody purchases just one or two more items a month than they usually buy, or if people who do not usually come into the store to purchase could come buy some stuff, then it would give us a little more momentum and ability to get through the rest of off-season," said Simontacchi.
Burns stated that word about assisting the Island Nutrition Center is starting to make a positive impact.
"(Carol) loves everybody, and everybody really wants to help us out," she added. "This isn't just a business to her — it's about helping people live healthier lives."
Island Nutrition Center is open Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Call 472-4499 or visit www.islandnutritioncenter.com for additional information.JEFF LYSIAK