Eastside Food Co-op is planning to build a 5,500-square-foot, L-shaped addition that will more than double the size of its sales floor.
Produce, meat and seafood, bulk, and prepared foods are the departments that will see the most growth after the $6.1 million project is completed.
“We’ve had a very limited food service capacity in the store, so that department will grow the most,” said General Manager Amy Fields, who added that she anticipates increasing staff from 67 to 92 after the project is completed. “We’ll have the coffee shop, but also made-to-order sandwiches, hot bar, salad bar and grab-and-go, like you see in a lot of the larger food stores in the Twin Cities.”
The co-op board had been considering an expansion since 2012, when a market study it commissioned showed that area consumer demand would support a 10,000-square-foot natural foods store. With its sales floor sitting at 4,150 square feet, the co-op felt vulnerable.
Figuring out how position an addition within the co-op’s crowded Central Ave. property wasn’t easy. Eastside staff met with the city numerous times trying to figure out the best way to expand without exacerbating site issues dealing with unloading semitrailers, trash hauling, and meeting parking and landscaping requirements.
“We weren’t really making progress,” said Eastside Food Co-op General Manager Amy Fields. “We had not-ideal choices followed by even less ideal choices, it was just really challenging.”
Outside of the Eastside Food Co-op -- photo by Alicia McCann
In February a solution arrived. The property next door, owned by Loves Lines Crisis Prevention Center, became available after the Christian telephone help line folded.
Buying the Love Lines property gave the co-op enough space to build the full addition it wanted while addressing all of the site issues.
The new plan added $2 million to the expansion’s total cost, but co-op members approved it in April and the land sale closed shortly after.
“I don’t know if it was their prayers or our prayers, or whatever, but the universe seemed to come together with really perfect timing,” said Fields.
Construction won’t begin until the co-op raises 30 percent of the project cost from its members, and Fields said they’re about 15 percent of the way there with $230,000 raised so far.
Fields hopes to break ground in the fall and estimated a six to eight month construction timeframe, including a break around the holiday season.
“If it takes us longer to raise the money to do the expansion because of the strategic acquisition of the [Love Lines] lots, I’m going to be patient about that because this was the right project,” she said.
Annual sales hovered around $2 million in the years following Eastside Food Co-op’s March 2003 opening, but last year sales reached $8.2 million after five straight years of steady growth. Fields estimates sales reaching $11 million in the first year after the expansion is complete, and maxing out at $18 or $19 million if the increasing demand for natural foods continues.