Business as usual

Stacey Day

Although on the very perimeter of the Lawrence bubble, Just Act Natural, the eco-living store on College Avenue, is well worth a visit for Lawrentians bold enough to venture downtown and over 200 yards away from academic buildings.
Older Lawrentians might not recall it from their earlier days, when still young enough to wander down College Avenue in a state of sobriety, simply because it only opened in Spring 2009. It opened April 22 actually, which for the non-eco-elite among us, would be Earth Day.
The store offers green goods ranging from clothing to cookware to stationary to body care products, and more.
Their mission statement reads:
“We are committed to bringing you products and knowledge that will benefit the well-being of your body, home, community and planet. We research and support manufacturers who create their goods in a sustainable and socially responsible manner using natural, organic, non-toxic or recycled materials. Just Act Natural is committed to being an active and invested member of our community. We hope our enthusiasm and efforts will be contagious.”
True to the principles of the green movement that is sweeping the nation, Just Act Natural is a truly local business, run by a local family. Proud owners and cofounders Dianne and J.C. Paustian first met in the dorms of UW-Oshkosh, having grown up in Horicon and Appleton, Wis., respectively.
After marrying in 2003, they moved back to J.C.’s hometown and looked for ways they could incorporate their environmental sensibilities into their lifestyle more completely. In 2006, influenced by work experience with naturalists in the Florida Keys, the idea of opening a store was born, and it came to fruition just three years later.
However, true tree huggers may be concerned by the apparent paradox of selling consumer goods in the name of the environmental movement; T-shirts exhorting others to recycle do little good if they are bleached nonorganic cotton and are made in Chinese sweatshops using entirely un-green practices.
J.C. and Dianne are keenly aware of this, and they stress the research they put into their suppliers. More generally, J.C. explains, “While part of the green movement is definitely buying less, people are going to shop. They are going to shop either here or at Walmart, and we would prefer here.”
Another important aspect of the modern green movement that J.C. and Dianne embrace is the fostering of community around these shared values. To quote Dianne, “Our business is about more than just ringing up sales, it’s about being a member of the larger, more eco-friendly community. We support healthy and sustainable lifestyles in general, whether through exercise or knowing what chemicals are in your food.”
Walking into Just Act Natural, one certainly feels something different and more inclusive than when entering just any store. Customers are encouraged to sign up for the green – paperless! – online newsletter, and other local and green businesses are advertised at the counter. “We care about other local small businesses,” J. C. said.
Perhaps the homiest touch of all is added by the invariable presence of one or both of the Paustians’ adorable children running around the store or playing quietly behind the counter. Kendra is 4 and loves filling up shoppers’ hopefully reusable bags with their purchases, as well as trying on some of the merchandise herself: “The purple shoes are her favorite,” said Dianne with a smile. Their younger child, J.J., is still too young to run around like his sister, but he smiles beamingly from behind the counter.
In our increasingly and ever more dangerously apathetic modern age, it is refreshing to see a store with a forward-thinking philosophy and system of values behind its every offering. Especially since Lawrence students receive a 10-percent discount, there is no reason why we also should not step up to the plate, put our money where our mouth is, and buy into a mentality for a healthier us, and a healthier planet.
For more information, check out The store is located just beyond Harmony Café at 129 E. College Ave.