Food Co-op Acquires Buildings to Expand Parking
On July 9, 2014, the Chequamegon Food Co-op finalized the purchase of the two buildings located at 718 and 720 Main Street West. The structures will be demolished to make way for an expanded parking lot adjacent to the Co-op’s new store at 700 Main Street West. Angelo Luppino, Inc. of Iron Belt, Wis. will provide demolition, with site plans provided by C&S Design of Ashland, Wis.
The Co-op expects at least 500 customers per day in its new store, a number that could have been hampered by a lack of parking. Prior to purchasing these properties, the Co-op secured a 20-year lease on the lot immediately adjacent to their new store property. This lot provides enough room for 16 parking spaces. With the purchase of these three additional city lots, there will be a total of 30 to 40 parking spaces.
General Manager Harold Vanselow anticipates the purchase will generate some controversy. “We understand that some folks will not be happy that we are tearing down these buildings,” said Vanselow. “That said, this purchase allows the Co-op to provide better access to good food, which is part of our mission as a business.”
To minimize environmental impact, salvageable materials from both buildings will be recovered and reused by the demolition company. The Co-op also hopes to use some of the materials from the buildings in their new store. The new site plan incorporates green spaces and a bike rack. The site plan will be reviewed by City of Ashland Planning Commission at their meeting on Tuesday, July 15, 2014.
Demolition of the buildings could begin as soon as early August. Construction on Chequamegon Food Co-op’s new store project is scheduled to be completed in mid-September of 2014. The Co-op will hold a soft opening immediately after completion, with a grand opening to follow in late October.
Parking Lot Questions & Answers
I heard you are tearing down some buildings to put in a parking lot. Why?
Current parking lot plans for our new store provide 14 non-handicapped spaces. The land is being leased for 20 years from an individual who owns an apartment building across Main Street from the lot. The tenants of those six apartments will each have a reserved space in the lot, reducing the number of spots available for shoppers to eight. That was the only way we were able to work out a lease for the lot. Buying the two buildings to the west of the lot will provide us with another 20+ spaces and will remove one of the main objections to shopping at our current store: no parking available.
Why did this decision happen so quickly and in secret?
This decision happened quickly to facilitate completion of the expanded parking lot by our scheduled September opening. The building at 720 Main Street West (currently Grubie’s Bar) went up for sale at the end of June. This gave the Co-op an opportunity to expand its proposed parking lot, if we demolished that building and the one adjacent to it. With this in mind, our general manager approached the owner of 718 Main Street West to gauge her interest in selling. Both owners agreed to sell. Per Co-op by-laws, the Board of Directors convened two special meetings to discuss and approve purchase of the buildings. Real estate decisions such as these are decided by the Board. The fast timeline was not ideal, but it is what we had to do to stay on track with the overall project.
What about process? Why wasn’t this put before the membership for a vote?
Our Co-op operates using by-laws. These by-laws detail the rights and responsibilities of members. Operational decisions are not governed by these by-laws. Instead, the Co-op has an administrative staff that is hired to oversee operations. This staff is headed by the general manager, who makes the main operational decisions for the Co-op.
This is a cooperative. Aren’t you supposed to get permission from the membership to make decisions like this?
The general manager’s actions are governed by the board of directors. This board is democratically elected by the membership to represent the best interests of the Co-op. The board determined, based on the financial evidence presented by the general manager (which included our market study), that purchasing and demolishing these buildings made the most financial sense to ensure the long-term viability of the Co-op as a business.
Why do we need more parking?
While many of our members walk or bike in the summer, the winter is a different story. Trudging through the snow at 30 below with bags full of groceries is neither practical nor comfortable for some of our shoppers. A larger parking lot provides better access for people who rely on vehicles for their transportation.
Isn’t there another solution?
Some folks have suggested having volunteer baggers and carry-out staff. While good in theory, a volunteer program relies on good will and requires management, both of which require time. We also already have bagging and carry out, so this would not be an added benefit beyond what we already offer. We have also looked into leasing or purchasing the land immediately behind our current building, and this may still be an option. Overall, an expanded parking lot is the best solution to ensure easy access to our new store.
Why are we tearing down perfectly good, historic buildings?
Neither building is in good condition, with one having significant foundation issues and the other having structural problems. In fact, one building was nearly condemned after an inspection just two years ago. Before proceeding with this sale, we also researched the history of these buildings to ensure that neither one had historical significance. We found nothing of consequence for either building.
I don’t like this decision. What can I do?
Please contact Harold Vanselow, general manager, at (715) 682-8251 or any board member, whose contact information is available on the website or in store.