You know the drill. You’re downtown. You need to pick up some groceries. So do you: A) stop by Rite Aid and dig through their random bins of onions and apples; B) trek to Rosauers in Browne’s Addition; or C) leave downtown in search of better options? Finally, a long-awaited fourth choice is here:
Henceforth, you can D) shop at Main Market Co-op at 17 W. Main Ave.
The co-op had its soft opening on Jan. 21 and is now open daily from 10 am to 7 pm. A full week of grand opening events will take place Feb. 15-20.
The staff estimates that about a thousand people flowed through the store on its first day.
“We needed — we definitely needed —that very quiet opening,” says Jennifer Hall, the co-op’s community food builder. It took hundreds of staff hours and volunteer hours (as well as the support of the Moscow Co-op) to build and stock shelves, enter member information into the database, and take care of hundreds of other tasks to prepare the store.
The co-op is polished and inviting, with high ceilings and blue, green and orange accents. Careful observers will notice plenty of shout-outs to the former resident, Goodyear Tire, like the massive blue letters that were part of the tire shop’s sign (that giant “E” in “bakery,” for instance).
Although there are still gaps on the shelves, the co-op’s got the basics covered, from bulk foods to meat to produce. The shelves mingle national brands (Newman’s Own, Kashi, etc.) with local items like produce from Olsen Farms, pet products from Libby’s Best Dog Bakery, and coffee from 4 Seasons, Craven’s and Doma. The store is looking like, well, a store. And shoppers are shopping. They’re also eating, at the family-style community table near the Take-Away section, which is stocked with soups from Jackson Farms, pastries from Bouzies Bakery and New Leaf Bakery, and deli items prepared by the co-op’s own kitchen and chef Bryan McDirmid.
There are some familiar faces on staff.
Carl Carlsteen of Rocket Market has been hired as the wine and beer manager. Marc Gauthier (an organic farmer and former co-owner of Natural Start Bakery) has been hired to manage the rooftop garden.
The soft opening has increased revenue, which will help get shelves stocked with more local goods. “Most smaller, local producers are not in a position to take payment terms,” Hall explains, meaning they need payment upon delivery, not at the end of the month. The goal, Hall says, is that the store would have “an ever-increasing presence of local.” More money in the store means more local on the shelves.
Before the grand opening, Hall hopes that some final items will come in, like the bakery wall cabinet, and chairs for the community table (they’re using borrowed ones at present). “On February 14,” Hall says, “my ‘love’ moment would be if everything we originally wanted was here.”
About 650 memberships ($180) had been purchased by the end of January. Student membership sales ($30/year) have been slow, but Hall hopes they’ll pick up now that the doors are open. She estimates that the co-op’s funding breakdown is about 15 percent from business partners, 50 percent from a loan, and 35 percent from members.
If anyone can shop at the co-op, why buy a membership? “If you’re a member, you’re an owner, and you want the co-op to succeed,” Hall says. Membership shows support for the co-op’s vision: connecting producers with customers, and supporting local, sustainable, and healthy foods. Plus, members get a vote in the co-op, and benefits like member-only sales, discounts on tours and classes, and dividends if the store makes a profit.
Increasing membership dollars is important, Hall says, but she carefully notes that the financial side isn’t the real marker of success. “When we’re successful, it’s when we’ve been successful in sharing the vision.” That vision is evident in the eco-friendly choices made in putting the building together. The heat generated by the stand-up freezers and refrigerators is sucked through pipes and used to heat the hot water tank. The building’s lockers and showers allow employees to clean up and change if they bike or walk to work. Rainwater caught on the roof will irrigate the produce in the rooftop garden (slated for the next phase of co-op development). On the south side of the building, solar panels are being installed. The building will be LEED Gold certified, once the paperwork has been submitted and approved, Hall says.
During grand opening week, there will be a ticketed reception with poet Joy Harjo on Feb. 15. Harjo’s poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here” is carved into the community table. The official ribbon cutting will be Feb. 16. Customers can sample local producers’ foods at the community table each day of grand opening week, and enter daily drawings for prizes like cookware, an iPod, and baskets of goods. A co-op tour will be offered on Feb. 19, and on Feb. 20 there will be an “In the Field” tour of Craven’s Coffee.
With the store just days old and the grand opening fast approaching, Hall describes her life as “a little ballistic” at present, and hopes that managers will be able to take some time off soon. But it’s worth it, she says, to highlight the work of the people who grow and raise the food we eat. “The producers are the superstars,” Hall says. “Without them, we all go.”