Meet the Dreamer: Joe Mager, Wildwood Community Market

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Wildwood Community Market opened in June 2022, and relationships have been at the center from the earliest planning stages. Joe Mager, who co-owns Wildwood with his wife Bryony Renouf, shares the Wildwood story as they near their one year anniversary.

One Business into Two

When Joe Mager and his wife and business partner Bryony Renouf moved to Boone more than 10 years ago, they fell in love with the tight-knit community. They also came to learn more about the economic makeup of their new region. “Boone doesn’t have a lot of large industry, so there aren’t a lot of job prospects,” Joe shared. “The result of that is a community where there’s a lot of entrepreneurship.” 

They made that creative, entrepreneurial spirit  a reality for themselves when they opened Bluebird Exchange – a children’s consignment store – in 2013. It was during this initial business endeavor that they connected with Mountain BizWorks High Country office for funding. After Bluebird Exchange was established and healthy, Joe moved into real planning stages for Wildwood Community Market. 

Starting from Experience

Both Joe and Bryony have natural foods retail experience, including Joe’s many years at EarthFare, so it was a world that they knew. After putting the idea aside for 10 or so years while growing their family and other business, there came a point of stability to push forward. Joe said, “I thought, ‘Well, I guess this is as good a time as any to take on this project we’ve been talking about for all these years.’” 

That doesn’t mean it happened overnight, of course. “It took a couple years to get going – there’s a lot of planning involved in starting a new business,” Joe said. This is a relatively complex business with a lot of moving parts: it’s a restaurant, it’s retail, we have produce, fresh meat – a lot of pieces.” Starting a new business – and new type of business – meant taking advantage of all resources available. This included taking classes with Mountain BizWorks, including ScaleUp and Invested courses and seeking loan capital to get the project off the ground. “Mountain BizWorks was our single largest source of funding. Mountain BizWorks and Chris Grasinger [High Country Regional Manager] really made it accessible for us – helped us figure it out.” 

Locally Centered

What they knew from the start, however, was that their mission was to support as many other local businesses as they could. While there were great options for shopping local – a once-a-week farmer’s market, great programs from Blue Ridge Women in Agriculture – there was room to increase regional access. “There wasn’t a seven days a week brick-and-mortar place where, at your convenience, you could go get some local produce,” Joe recounted. “We felt like there was definitely an opportunity there.”

He also was able to use his knowledge gained and relationships built over the past 10+ years working with other retailers. “I had already established relationships among producers – particularly our local farmers – so when we got this operation up and running I already had a lot of contacts – not just contacts, friends,” Joe said.

“Our general approach is whenever we identify another product or a category for the store that we want to sell, we look locally first. So, our first stop would be someone here in Boone, then the High Country, and so on… Small producers – whether they’re farmers or jewelry or coffee roasters or dairy farmers – all that stuff is happening up here.” He believes in the “a rising tide lifts all boats” philosophy, with a special interest in working with local producers interested in the mutual aspect of the relationship. “If their produce is looking really good and fresh, we buy it, and it sells well for us, and we get more – it’s just good for everybody.”

Accessibility in Time (and Food!)

Another way they’re working to make local food accessible is their generous open hours. Following the traditional grocery model, they’re currently open 7:30 a.m. until 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 9 a.m. – 8 p.m. on Sundays.  “I didn’t consider how well people would respond to that. The convenience component was important to us, so the hours just seemed natural that that’s what we needed to do,” said Joe.

Whether you visit early or late, take note of the inclusive food options available, too. Joe’s current favorite is the chicken and pimento cheese sandwich, eating it “almost every day.” But their signature? “The one that’s really getting us the most attention is our country fried tofu sandwich. We take a lot of time and care with our tofu,” he said. This meat-free wonder speaks to their goal with the menu, too: to make it as accessible to as many different dietary considerations as possible. “Most of our food is gluten-free, most of our food is dairy free. We still have milk and meat and cheese and all that as well – there’s a nice mix of products,” Joe shared. “We don’t want anyone to be able to say they can’t eat here.”

Investing in the Team/Investment from the Team

When it comes to advice for other business owners, Joe once again puts people and relationships at the center. He said, “My biggest advice would be investing in and not undervaluing your team. A lot of operators look at their labor budget as the biggest piece of the pie when it comes to their expenses, and we’re no exception. I spend more on labor than anything else, but I also view my team as our greatest asset. They’re the ones doing the work, they’re the ones taking care of our customers. We wouldn’t have anything without our team.” He is working to show them their value, too, through positive company culture and benefits like feeding employees each shift, offering discounts, and a commitment to the business in order to care for his team better.

They’ve also allowed one employee (so far) to buy into the business. “Our store manager Sara – she and I worked together at another retailer here in town for a couple of years. When we were getting going, we gave her the opportunity to buy in. So, she has some equity in the company and she’s a partner with us,” Joe shared.  They plan to eventually offer this to other managers as well. Joe believes this is key for the heart of their business, saying, “in the spirit of a real community project – to be operated by the people that have an interest in the business of the company, there’s no higher level of appreciation.” 

You can visit Wildwood Community Market (and try the country fried tofu sandwich!) at 182 Howard Street in Boone, NC, and check out their website at

Photos captured by Drew Mercer of Drew Mercer Photography.


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