A Natural Place To Be: Full Circle Market

When one first walks through the door at Full Circle Market, they are greeted with the pleasant aroma of spices, homemade food and natural health products.

The next thing they will 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 originally from Somerset, Kentucky, and moved to the commonwealth’s central region to attend Eastern Kentucky University. After her college days ended, Sheehan spent time as a seasonal ranger for the U.S. National Parks Service.

“I worked in Yellowstone, Mammoth Cave and the Great Smoky Mountains,” she said.

Sheehan primarily worked in the campground and assisted with trail duties. During that time, she began to explore local health food stores.

“Any time I was at a national park, I would seek out locally owned businesses and health food stores,” Sheehan said.

Eventually, she felt the call to come home to Kentucky, and by the late 1990s, she and her husband settled in the Winchester area. Health food stores were never far from her mind.

“I felt like when I came back to Kentucky that small towns need 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 the Mountain Parkway, Sheehan felt that the community could support a health food store.

Full Circle Market opened its doors in 2001 in the shopping center behind the Winchester Kroger, and in those days finding healthy food options was difficult.

“You could not find these items in the big box stores. You could not find a loaf of bread at Kroger that did not have high fructose corn syrup in it. You could not find a coconut that was not sweetened. You could not find jams and jellies that were sweetened with fruit juices instead of sugar,” Sheehan said.

It was also challenging to find a place to purchase specialty items like flaxseed in bulk.

The market featured 64 bulk bins initially, but the customers repeatedly asked for smaller quantities.

“The more I learned about inventory and keeping things fresh it made better sense for us just to package things and put it on the shelf,” Sheehan said.

The market’s success was not all due to good luck either.

“I did work a lot, and I still do work a lot,” Sheehan said. “I did not hire someone until four years in; I think that when you open a small business, you have to be realistic that it takes a while.”

Being realistic also means adapting to the times, especially when larger retailers begin to offer healthier products and a global pandemic flips the script on what a typical day looks like.
“We are facing things that after the pandemic and just competing with other retailers that have made challenges that we really did not foresee,” Sheehan said.

During the height of the pandemic in 2020, shoppers started using curbside pickup, delivery services, and going to one store location to avoid being around multiple larger crowds.

The market never closed, offered curbside service, and kept amended business hours, but as the pandemic enters its third year, Sheehan said that the challenge is getting people to return to in-person shopping.

“Everybody’s buying habits have changed,” she said. “I’m so grateful that everyone found everything that they needed, but do you still need to be ordering from Amazon all the time?”

Sheehan and the market’s employees try to make the space as welcoming as possible and offer excellent customer service.

“You can’t get that on the internet,” Sheehan said.

The market also began selling products not easily found at commercial retailers, such as specialty supplements.

The market offers a personalized customer service experience for individuals in the nascent stage of a healthier journey.

“A lot of time, customers want to talk to someone before they take it. They have lots of questions and have never used it before,” Sheehan said. “So we really started screening supplements. There are a lot of synthetic supplements out there … So when you come in, you know no matter what vitamin or supplement or body care item you are purchasing, there is nothing artificial or synthetic in it.”

Sheehan said that the market also shifted to making ready-to-go meals as customer habits trended toward that preference five years ago.

“I was asked to come help set up the kitchen and our grab-and-go section because I had 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 are quick, easy, and good,” customer Geraldine Branham said about the grab-and-go options.

The market also offers locally sourced honey and eggs.

Sheehan said the next evolution of the market is to make it an “area where people hang and not just come and shop.”

The market already has an outdoor seating area with plug-in stations for mobile devices.

Two art students from George Rogers Clark High School are in talks with Sheehan to paint a mural on that side of the building, and if things go well, there is a possibility the market will begin to host live music and yoga classes in the future.

And while the times are changing, the need for human connection and a link to the natural world will keep folks coming back to places like Full Circle Market.