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Study geared to community-owned grocery stores

WILLMAR -- Can Kandiyohi County support three community-owned grocery stores whose focus is on fresh, locally grown food?

A market and feasibility study being undertaken by a local initiative will attempt to come up with enough data to help answer this question.

The joint operations board of the Kandiyohi County and City of Willmar Economic Development Commission voted Thursday to allocate up to $12,000 to underwrite the cost of the study, which is being carried out by the G2G Research Inc. consulting firm.

"We don't want to move any further if this market study shows this won't work," said Bev Dougherty, who is on the EDC operating board and also is involved with the community grocery store initiative.

If the study supports the concept, a second study will be launched to look at the financial feasibility of the project and come up with some preliminary store designs, Dougherty said Thursday.

Organizers are looking at three cooperatively owned food markets: one in New London, one in Pennock, with Kandiyohi as an alternate location, and one in Willmar. Each of the stores would be a venue for area vendors to sell locally produced vegetables, fruit, meat and other foods, Dougherty said.

A year-round market is something that vendors at the summertime Becker Market have been asking for, she said.

"The vendors would love to sell more."

The concept also ties in with local efforts to promote community gardening and increase the consumption of fresh food, especially among young families.

The market and feasibility study will help organizers determine how viable the project might be. Among the data that will be collected and analyzed are demographics, sales projections and trade area dynamics.

Steve Renquist, executive director of the Economic Development Commission, told the board Thursday that he endorsed the allocation of EDC funds for the study. The money will come out of the reserve fund from dollars that were previously assigned to the Willmar multicultural market project but were never spent.

Separate efforts are under way to bring a grocery store to New London, which lost its only grocery store several months ago when the Big Store closed, Renquist noted.

"There is a place for a grocery store in New London," he said.

Some EDC board members wondered Thursday whether a community-owned grocery store would be directly competing with existing businesses.

"Is it in any way detrimental to the stores we already have?" asked Betty Bollig.

Renquist and Dougherty said the vision for the community-owned groceries is to occupy a specialty niche, similar to the Kandi Cupboard food cooperative in downtown Willmar, which will likely be incorporated into the project.

"My vision is that this would be a model for the rest of the country," Dougherty said. "It looks like it's something that can work."

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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