Washington, IL—On Sunday, November 17, more than 16 tornadoes hit Illinois and parts of Indiana, leaving incredible damage in their wake. One of the hardest hit areas was Washington, IL, where one person was killed, 120 people were injured and 500 homes were destroyed.

Just a few miles from this site in downtown Morton, IL, stands Colby Natural Health, an independent store that has been owned by Dale Colby for 16 years. Though spared from the storm's physical path, the business has been affected on a personal level. Says Colby, “The tornado has touched the lives of everyone who lives here.  Someone knows someone else who was in it or lost everything.”

He and his family heard the tornado sirens blaring that Sunday afternoon and took shelter in their basement. After the storm passed, the Colbys heard about the heavy damage to Washington, IL, his hometown. “We learned that we were probably going to be without power for as long as 24 hours, so then the day took a different turn,” Colby recalls. “At this point, the time was around 2:00 pm, and while we had light, we knew we had to prepare for our dinner meal and the night cold which was predicted to drop down to 30 degrees.”

As for the store, the doors opened for business its usual time, but the situation was far from normal. First, there were some computer networking problems (which Colby resolved quickly). 

Second, his store became a place to recover. Even in the face of disaster, it was a place community members wanted and needed to visit. “As the day went on, and as customers came in from all over, including Washington, we learned first-hand of our customers’ experiences,” says Colby.

He spoke of one shopper in particular: “We had a shopper in the store today that lives very close to the area…She clearly wanted to vent and talk, so we spent a good deal of time talking with her about the people she knows that don’t have homes anymore. And when she left, she said, ‘Thank you. I needed this therapy.’”

Colby’s experience speaks very much to what being an independent retailer is all about. “You build relationships with people. It’s not just products we’re selling; we sell trust and integrity.” And, this trust is something shoppers are drawn to in good times and in bad.


Editor's Note: To learn what supplies are needed by the tornado victims, contact the local chapter of the Red Cross at (309) 674-7171 or the Morton Chamber of Commerce at (309) 263-2491, which is spearheading a relief effort.


Published in WholeFoods Magazine, January 2014 (online 11/21/13, updated 11/22/13)