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Debbie Maher, a former manager of several Richard’s Foodporium natural foods stores, will open Lily Lou’s Specialty Foods on Thursday in Port Charlotte after facing a number of setbacks. 

Lily Lou’s is at 24150 Tiseo Blvd. off Kings Highway behind the Taco Bell in Port Charlotte. The store is next to All Star Granite & Quartz in a small strip mall. 

Her route to opening the natural and organic grocery store, which will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony Thursday with friends, workers and the members of the Charlotte County Chamber of Commerce, included deaths of family members, the loss of a first location, the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ian. 

Maher was content serving as manager of Richard’s Foodporiums in Port Charlotte, Venice, and North Port for more than seven years. However, the stores suddenly closed Nov. 12, 2021, when she was managing the Venice store. 

“We tried everything to save it,” Maher said.  

After the Sarasota-based business, which opened as Richards Whole Foods in 1979, closed, Maher found herself reeling and trying to decide her next chapter. 

Her move to Charlotte County in 2010 was unexpected. A native of Denver, she lived in New York and was residing in Las Vegas before moving to the area in 2010 to help her father take care of her ill mother. 

After the deaths of her parents and a few other family members, Maher bought a Yorkshire Terrier she named Lily Lou and traveled the country for six months with the dog in tow. 

She returned to the area and teamed up with the man who became like a grandfather to her. He lived with his wife down the street from her, and she befriended Kathy Flato, also a neighbor, who will be working in the store with her. 

Hurricane Ian destroyed Maher’s Deep Creek home, so she moved to Lakeland temporarily and commuted to Charlotte County to find a location for her store that is a smaller version of the former Richard’s Foodporium in Port Charlotte. 

Maher named her store after her small Yorkie, who she credits with saving her life after experiencing so much grief.  

The store will sell bulk items, vitamins, supplements, packaged foods, healthy foods and refrigerated items. It also will have a peanut butter machine similar to the one Richard’s stores had. One can watch as peanuts are ground and turned into pure, natural peanut butter. 

Lily Lou’s will carry a lot of the same items Richard’s Foodporiums did because Maher uses the same food distributor—KeHE. 

The store has a rustic, country feeling with handmade carpentry Maher’s friend and neighbor Patrick Leland created. He has been working on interior construction and design. 

Another friend, Wendy Velvick, helped stock the shelves ahead of the grand opening along with another friend, Jesse Ercolani. Maher expressed gratitude that she has close friends who’ve rallied around to help her launch what has become her dream. 

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