Herbal store founder finally finds time for the garden

Bronwyn Lowe wanted to work in the herbal medicine field for just a few years – to help make it more accessible to the general public – then get back to the garden.

But that was a quarter of a century ago, the now 57 year old reflected last week, days after she handed over her long-standing Raglan business The Herbal Dispensary to new owners.

When the Local Rag caught up with her Bronwyn had just spent the previous weekend farewelling regular customers as they dropped by the thriving seven-days-a-week business in downtown Wallis St.

The dispensary might have already changed hands but Bronwyn was still “doing things” to help out before finally leaving for good.

And while she was looking forward to more time in the garden – just like she’d envisaged all those years ago – she was also eagerly anticipating spending time with the grandchildren, both her own and partner Geoff Kelly’s.

A proud Bronwyn says Geoff’s backed her all the way in the business, particularly in an ambitious move from Bow St to larger premises in Wallis St. This is where the dispensary truly became a destination in its own right.

She reveals the pair actually met at The Herbal Dispensary. “Geoff came in to buy lip balm,” she says.

That was 17 years ago, and without his encouragement Bronwyn reckons she wouldn’t have had the guts to buy the Wallis St property a few years later and transform the two former residential units on site (the second property is occupied by ULO’s Kitchen).

“Geoff had more vision,” she insists of a time when no-one quite believed that moving a business from the main street would work. “But now we’re part of a busy hub.”

In all there were about seven moves before the current premises were found, Bronwyn recalls. She first opened up in 1996 in the old doctors’ surgery on Wi Neera St with just $3000 worth of stock. “It was a big deal in those days.”

Having just graduated from the Waikato Centre for Herbal Medicine, she was keen to simply raise the profile of herbs as a natural health alternative then get on with her own garden.  

But the business soon outgrew the premises, so she moved it to where The Yard is now down Volcom Lane. Next it was a move to the lower end of Bow St, followed by various shifts uptown.

The final move to Wallis St allowed for a herb garden at the back, two clinic rooms, a dedicated dispensary and an organic food store. “When I began the business it was just me, and now it’s grown from between eight to 14 staff depending on the time of year.”

Bronwyn insists however it’s support from the community that ultimately saw the dispensary succeed. She’s proud to have served third-generation customers – the children of longtime locals who now come in with their own young children. “It’s so lovely, that generational connection.”

The business is now in the hands of naturopath Natalie Jacques, who worked for Bronwyn for a few years from 2014. She’s been based more recently in Mount Maunganui but says she always wanted to come back to Raglan. 

Bronwyn’s “thrilled” that the ethos of The Herbal Dispensary will remain the same with Natalie and her partner Loic Jonnart at the helm. 

“Loic and I met here too,” Natalie laughs. “He came in for a juice though.”  

 Meanwhile Bronwyn insists Raglan’s “our forever home”.  She and Geoff earlier sold their house alongside the dispensary and have bought a property in Mangatawhiri Rd that sits on two acres or so – an ideal place for a spot of gardening.

Edith Symes