OAKLAND -- Neighbors and businesses in the Laurel district have come and gone, but one store has remained a fixture in the community for 80 years.
In 1933, during the heart of the Depression, John Denis decided he would open a retail store and set up a mill operation in Oakland on a street known then as Hopkins. Although some things have changed at The Food Mill store, including the street name where it's located, the history remains.
"We stayed true to who we were, and everyone else kind of evolved to the commercial type of grocery store," said Kirk Watkins, owner of The Food Mill. "We have that old homey feel of a general store."
When Watkins began working at the store as a high school sophomore in 1969, he would package cookie bars in the upstairs bakery. The table where he worked still remains in the store, although only a couple of months ago he purchased a machine to help speed up the packing process.
The table is not the only remaining relic, as Watkins and employees still use old cash registers, as well as a peanut butter grinder and a roasting machine from when the store first opened. There is even a "museum" within the store that showcases the history of The Food Mill -- a history that Watkins said he plans to conserve for years to come.
"I just like the simple part of it all, and I think customers do too," Watkins said. "I think they enjoy coming in here and stepping back a little bit in time where things aren't so hurried."
The health food store celebrated 80 years on Saturday, with employees dressed in white shirts, black pants and aprons, to mirror employees in grocery stores back in the 1930s. There were food demos, lectures on breathing, movement and diet, face painting and massages.
Local vendors were also present to speak with community members and customers of The Food Mill. Michele LeProhn, owner of Communite Table, a prepared food business, is working out of the store's kitchen. She attended the Saturday celebration and provided samples to customers.
"It's a place I've shopped at weekly forever, so to be cooking out of here is just really special," LeProhn said. "I feel like we need more businesses in this neighborhood like this. I plan on living here a long time, and I always want to be able to come to The Food Mill."
Evelyn Harper has been shopping at The Food Mill for 40 years. Harper purchases different varieties of teas and supplements at the store, most of which she said she can't find elsewhere.
"The store has pretty much remained the same," Harper said. "I like it because it's familiar, and it's smaller, so you can get the attention you need."
The store provides a large bulk section, with almost 800 different items, including spices, flour and herbs. There are also consultants on staff seven days a week who offer free information to help guide customers with problems like diabetes, high cholesterol and arthritis, to name a few.
Although the store is small, it contains a pharmacy section, a grocery section and frozen foods, among other items. Eva Patton, who has been coming to The Food Mill for 15 years, said she refuses to move from the area primarily based on the store itself. Patton said the store serves as her pharmacy and grocery store and that she feels at home when she shops there.
"You're family when you come here," Patton said. "I come here, and I don't go anywhere else. I know how community-based they are, and they care about the customers in actions, not just words."
Some customers who frequent the store are known on a first-name basis, and Watkins said employees try and create a family feel. Watkins' own family has been involved with the store for as long as he can remember. His three brothers worked there as kids, and his two sons and his wife work there.
Despite customers' hopes that The Food Mill will expand, Watkins said he only plans on expanding within the store and continuing the store's focus on the community and its health.
"I just want to take care of my baby and leave it at that," Watkins said. "I just plan to continue to grow on this. It's all about giving to the community, and people like that."