Jules Supera and Theodore Superak were born the same day in April 1914. No one noticed the coincidence. At least, not until 62 years later, when their children became a couple.
And an odd couple it was. India Supera was an early hippy who dropped out of high school, hitched her way to the Far East, nearly died in Pakistan, overcame opium addiction and found her guru in the miracle man of India, Satya Sai Baba. When she was barefoot with a begging bowl in the Himalayas, Paul Superak (now known as Laughing Water) was doing physics problem sets at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
It would be a stretch (ahem) to say they had yoga in common, but when India put on a yoga retreat at the Feathered Pipe Ranch in the summer of 1975, Laughing Water drove from Berkeley to cook in exchange for the three-week “vacation.” It’s been a long three weeks, and not exactly a vacation.
The Ranch, which would soon become a world-known retreat center, needed a cook. It also needed a source of natural foods, and so did Helena. So with India’s last $2,000 they started a store, which Laughing Water has managed since day one. The two were married a year later and although no longer married, they remain co-owners to this day.
Opening Oct. 1, 1975, the store grew slowly for 13 years in its original location at 433 N. Last Chance Gulch. It grew more rapidly in its later locations in the Hustad Center from 1988-1998, on Fuller Ave. downtown from 1998-2003, and in its current location, again in the Hustad Center.
From its start the store had high product standards for its basic items, including lots of bulk foods and organic produce, drawn from local sources when possible. It has long been one of the rare natural food stores to be a certified organic food handler.
We first opened our deli in our Fuller Ave. location in 1998 and our fresh meat department, featuring strictly grass-fed Montana meats, in our current location in 2003.
Through its connection with the Feathered Pipe Ranch, the store brought some of the pioneers of natural health to the Helena public, including Paavo Airola, ND, Bernard Jensen, DC and Andrew Weil, MD. It has also sponsored talks by many of Helena's local natural healers.
We became one of the early members of INFRA, the Independent Natural Food Retailers Association, in 2006, with Laughing Water serving on its board for seven years. As members we are part of a thriving movement to support mission-driven, locally-owned stores through cooperative buying and sharing of best practices.
Today our biggest challenge may be our own success. The products we sell have caught on, and Amazon, conventional supermarkets and the so-called “supernaturals” chains are in hot competition for market share. In a world threatened by climate change and gross imbalances in wealth and power, there may be nothing more important than supporting family businesses and family farms, our people-sized islands of sanity.
Maybe that will also catch on.