NEW LEAF HISTORY
New Leaf was founded at 11:00 am on Friday the 28th of May 1975 when Alim met with a distributor of East West Journal. They formed a partnership to distribute the magazine and related “new age” health and metaphysical titles to local stores. The idea of distribution had come to Alim over a period of six weeks while visiting the Hippocrates Health Institute, Dr. Ann Wigmore’s “live foods” clinic in Boston. He had been a “believer” in dietary healing but wished to experience it first hand. While there, he had witnessed recoveries from such supposedly incurable diseases as cancer, arthritis and heart disease. Alim knew Dr. Ann’s books were not widely available and wished to remedy that. As the idea germinated, the name “Shakti Distributes” came to him while reading a book about Swami Muktananda. Shakti means the feminine principle of Godhead as it manifests as a spiritual force, which perfectly fit what he wished the business to be.
Mis-informed that he could buy Dr. Ann’s books at thirty-three cents on the dollar and wholesale them at sixty-six cents on the dollar, Alim figured it would not take too much selling to support his simple lifestyle. However, it made sense to sell some other publications besides Dr. Ann’s books. A friend at the institute knew Dr. Paavo Airola (Health Plus Publishers) and said, “He’s a nice guy. He’ll let you distribute his books.” New Age Journal was in only its second issue at the time having spun off of East West Journal (which was at that time a tabloid sold in only a few metropolitan areas). These seemed a natural fit, so Alim called New Age and East West (both were based in Boston). He learned that New Age was presently without a distributor having shipped 200 copies to Atlanta that were sitting in someone’s basement. (Things were so flaky in those days!) East West already had a distributor named Jim Massey. When Alim returned to Atlanta, he scheduled the May 28th meeting with Jim.
At first, Shakti Distributes operated out of a broom closet at a long gone hippie vegetarian restaurant. They began selling to the health foods stores in Atlanta, and a few bookstores. Sevananda was one of the first customers as was the Golden Pyramid owned by our New Leaf co-worker, Sulaiman Nuriddin. It was not long before they discovered that the margins on books was much smaller than they had believed —17 ½% instead of 50%. Jim and Alim were extremely naive and knew nothing of business—“too dumb to quit—too dumb to know they were attempting the impossible.” But they did realize the enterprise would have to grow to become viable. By mid-summer it had grown into a 8’x15’ with 3’ of headroom loft in the old Sevananda. Then in June of ’76 Shakti went “big time” renting a $35 per month room on the second floor of the Sevananda building. Jim retired in August and Alim considered abandoning the struggle. Gross sales at the time were about $500 per week. He had gone from a “laid back, odd jobs” lifestyle to working 40-50 hour weeks on Shakti without pay plus working odd jobs for income.
In January of 1977, Shakti hired its first person besides Alim. Each of them was paid $35 per week. That summer the business moved to 979 Peachtree Street (now known as “Ancient Leaf”) paying $75 per month as a “tenant at will.” Since it was on the busiest street in the city, it seemed to make sense to open a storefront retail outlet as well as the distributorship. The retail outlet (named “The Smiling Forehead”) opened with one book each of the distribution titles. Later that same year the name “New Leaf” came during a meeting at a time when the outlook was particularly bleak and co-workers wanted to change New Leaf name. They were accusing Alim of being stuck because he would not accept any of their suggestions. He said, “What we need is a NEW LEAF.” Tom Braswell (who also created our logo) said, “That’s it.”
More “MAGICK” occurred with the coming of Ned Daughdrille. After being in Atlanta a few months and unable to find a small alternative business situation in which he could become a principle (he did not want to start a company himself), he decided to take a job in the computer industry. Having made this decision he returned home to find a message to call someone named “Alim” (his name at that time). Meanwhile, Alim’s only employee had just walked out. It had become clear he needed a partner- someone who would carry the responsibility equally and preferably someone with computer experience plus some capital to invest. Ned had all three.
In July of ’79 New Leaf moved to what we now call “Old Leaf” at 1081 Memorial Drive, a building occupied on the lower level by Magnolia Co-op Warehouse. Alim remembers experiencing its 5,000 square feet as cavernous and thinking, “Wow! If our business could ever grow this big!” The only way to afford the rent was to sub-lease some of the space, so New Leaf moved in with C.W. Sprouts taking the back third and the Soy Shop taking the middle third. (Ned made this move happen because he was tired of banging his head on the metal chimney that protruded from the six-foot ceiling in our loft-office at Peachtree St.)
With the turning of a new decade, the summer of 1980 saw the arrival of the first computer, and summer of ’81 saw the arrival of Rich Bellezza and Judith Hawkins. Both had applied for the same job, and New Leaf could not afford both—but the magical strength of each proved New Leaf could not afford NOT to have both. The business broke even for the first time the next year and gross sales began doubling annually. Although there were no other companies in the Southeast doing the distribution New Leaf was trying to do, it took eight and a half years (until 1983) for the business to show a profit. Just as Ned’s special genius connected New Leaf’s systems to the computer age, Judith’s insightful book buying made New Leaf a presence in the metaphysical market place. Also her wisdom and guidance have been part of New Leaf’s foundation ever since she arrived.
When Rich arrived, New Leaf was still a floundering concoction of ideas and ideals, missing some of the nuts, bolts, legs and energy. Rich says, “The 80 hour week for $80.00 was so simple it was appealing.” As have many before and after him, Rich discovered all of his business and personal experiences up to that time seemed to prepare him for what New Leaf needed.
Other key figures in New Leaf’s growth and prosperity are as follows: Jeri Denham, a member before Judith and Rich who left but returned to the fold and brought the beginnings of detail and organization to the business; Larry Enlow, whose energy made it possible to offer same day service to our customers for the first time; Patrick Gaffney who was the first person to completely develop himself in the areas of customer service for which New Leaf is noted; Maurice LeCroy, whose efforts were responsible for opening up new markets for New Leaf especially in Music; Apolonia Fortino, a dynamic force who helped manifest the years of doubling growth; and Annie Crutcher, who professionalized the art and promotion departments and is responsible for the creation of the New Leaf look.
In 1983, eight and a half years after its inception, New Leaf showed its first profit and moved from the upstairs warehouse to a new location at 1020 White Street (now called “Middle Leaf”). With an expanding inventory, catalogs, and sales that were now doubling annually, New Leaf became a major new age marketing force in the publishing industry. The business grew rapidly at the White Street location until the move in 1987 to 5425 Tulane Drive. Also in 1987 the alternate corporate identity of Al Wali (the Friend) was developed. New Leaf had grown to thirty something employees and now utilized eight-Watts lines for orders. From 1987 to 1995 New Leaf’s staff grew from 30 plus employees to 90 employees, and annual sales skyrocketed to 30 million by 1994.
In 1990, five New Leaf employees offered shares of their stock to form the New Leaf Employee Stock Ownership Plan. The company from the beginning had maintained ownership among the employees. In the early years when the company was losing money and there was no money for compensation, equity was given in the form of company stock. The formation of the ESOP formalized this practice and provided a vehicle to extend ownership to many more employees as the company grew. The ESOP grew to where it owned 49% of the company stock. Over the years from 1990 until 2001 when the ESOP was frozen, well over 100 people became employee owners.
1993 saw the departure of Alim as he felt he had contributed what he could and that the company needed different leadership. He felt that changes in the industry would require New Leaf to be run differently than it had been, and he left to pursue other interests. Rich became CEO as well as CFO and COO.
In 1995, New Leaf took another leap, which landed her in a new home at 401 Thornton Road in Lithia Springs, Georgia. The warehouse sits on over 5 acres of land with 90,000 square feet of operational space. With this move came more technological advances, particularly in the order fulfillment processes, including the use of scanners, a conveyor system and zone picking.
In its new home, New Leaf continued to prosper reaching sales of around $28 million. However, with the advent of online bookselling and the chain superstores, the industry changed dramatically. Many of the smaller stores could no longer compete and so began an erosion of the New Leaf customer base. Also Rich became progressively more ill with a rare blood disease and was unable provide the necessary energy to guide New Leaf in an increasingly more difficult environment. The business began a steady decline in 1997.
It became apparent that New Leaf needed an infusion of energy in the form of executive talent and capital. Rich began courting possible merger partners that could provide both. The years 1999 through 2002 saw a number of suitors calling, and in preparation for a sale, the closing of the ESOP was begun. However no feasible deal was found, and Rich finally said the business would close if there was no suitable buyer by the end of 2002.
Tragically in October of 2002, Rich passed away after a long battle with a rare blood disease. He was wholeheartedly committed to New Leaf’s mission of “providing informational material and related items that foster learning, personal awakening, spiritual growth and healing in our selves and others,” and he gave his energy to it right up until the end. Respected and loved by many, he was known for his soft-spoken nature, big heart and great generosity. He had gained great stature in the Douglasville community and his memorial was attended by hundreds of people.
With Rich’s passing, it was truly New Leaf’s darkest hour. Alim, who was now living 200 miles away in Alabama, came to the Al-Wali board and offered his help. He presented a turnaround plan to the board that was adopted and he was appointed interim CEO as of November 1, 2002 and charged with implementing the first phase of the plan. At the same time, Alim and the board endeavored to find a buyer.
By late December a deal was struck with industry veterans Santosh and Karuna Krinsky and in January 2003 it was announced that New Leaf was under new ownership. Shakti, LLC, controlled by the Krinskys, acquired 100% of the corporate stock of Al-Wali Corp., the parent company of New Leaf Distributing.
Santosh has been in the book industry for 29 years, specializing in body/mind/spirit titles. He started Lotus Light Enterprises, a wholesaler of natural health and wellness products; Lotus Brands, a manufacturer of products inspired by nature; and Lotus Press, a publishing company that focuses on alternative health and wellness information. Santosh had been on the New Leaf "Board of Dreamers," an advisory board, for a number of years and had a very close relationship to New Leaf virtually from the time of its founding. He and Alim had been friends for many years and were confident that they could work well together to take New Leaf forward.
Santosh stated his goals for the company at the time of closing: "New Leaf is an outstanding leader in the field of metaphysical, spiritual and wellness information. In today’s troubled times, it is more important than ever that a company such as New Leaf is strong, vibrant and leading the way in providing this information. I am truly humbled by the trust that has been reposed in me and have dedicated myself to continuing to build New Leaf in the future together with its outstanding team of people and in collaboration with New Leaf’s many customers and vendors."
Alim was named President and CEO, and put in charge of day-to-day operations of the company. He brought his passion and enthusiasm along with his intimate knowledge of the operations and the needs of the customers. Alim immediately appointed Santosh as CFO and together they make up the company’s executive team.
After the low point of 2002 in which the company lost nearly $700,000, 2003 saw a profit of around $200,000, and New Leaf is well on its road to financial stability. Everyone is looking forward again and there are many plans underway to make New Leaf a greater and greater force for good.