Sunday, December 16, 2012
Retail Roundup: Co-op will soon have two locations
Retail Roundup columns
- Haverty;s at Valley View to close in May
- Former teacher to open bookshop
- Bookstore manager ponders new chapter
The Storefront blog
What started more than 40 years ago as a small natural food store in the basement of a southwest Roanoke County couple's home has grown into a member-owned grocery store that soon will have two locations and supply its stores with products from its own farm.
Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op announced last week that it is opening a second store on the Roanoke farmers market, in the space where Thomas Market closed earlier this year to accommodate Center in the Square's $27 million renovation. Plans for the co-op's 25-acre urban farm, Heritage Point, were finalized earlier this year.
"We're excited to be in the position to grow our cooperative," general manager Bruce Phlegar said in a news release announcing the store.
The co-op's board of directors had been looking for several years for a suitable space to open a second store. In August, Center in the Square president Jim Sears approached the board about opening in the renovated Thomas Market space. The owner of the market did not renew the store's lease, Sears said.
"I think it strengthens the economy of the market area," Sears said. "It strengthens Center in the Square. It provides a service I don't think we could have found anywhere else."
Sears also was attracted to the co-op's strong community ties and its financial performance, he said.
The co-op's board members were finalizing details for the farm at the Roanoke Center for Industry and Technology when Sears approached them with the downtown opportunity. The farm will produce vegetables, fruit, free-range eggs, cut flowers and honey. It also will have a seed and garden supply store.
Planning the farm helped the board see potential for more growth, said John Bryant, the co-op's marketing director.
"It kind of opened our eyes," he said.
Bryant noted that the co-op will strive to be a good neighbor to vendors who sell items similar to those offered at the co-op.
"We definitely want to be neighborly," Bryant said. "The goal is to be one with the community. We don't want to move in with an iron fist."
The co-op already sells local produce, but new relationships with market vendors could lead to new products or new suppliers, he said.
In that spirit of being neighborly, the new store won't include a deli such as the one at the Grandin Road store.
"There are tons of great restaurants downtown already," Bryant said. "We have no intention of being in the restaurant business."
The store will offer grab-and-go foods prepared daily at the Grandin Road store. Its inventory will be similar to that offered at the Grandin location but with a smaller selection.
The 1,225-square-foot downtown shop is expected to open in March.
Bryant said he hopes that the new location will give the co-op exposure to consumers who have heard of the co-op but have never visited.
In other Center in the Square news, Birdy's Loft, a new retail store selling antique jewelry and furniture, hand-painted dishes and glassware, clothing and more, is set to open in the center's atrium by February, Sears said.
The center continues to search for a lessee for the building's planned rooftop restaurant. The restaurant space is 4,250 square feet, with an additional 1,756 square feet of outdoor seating. The center has hired Hall Associates to help find a tenant.
An agent with the real estate firm said several months ago that he was in talks with interested parties, both national chains and local restaurateurs. None of those prospective parties has signed a lease, Sears said. The capital needed to open the restaurant and the economy are proving to be an obstacle for many who are interested, he said.
Sears said he expects interest to pick up when the center reopens and prospective tenants can see the finished product.
If a restaurant doesn't open, Sears said, the space can be used by caterers for events such as weddings, or it could be occupied by other museums. The center already has booked four weddings for the spring, Sears said.
Search continues for Ivy Market tenant
Valley Bank still is working to find a buyer or tenant for Ivy Market, the shopping center on Franklin Road in Roanoke where Ukrop's closed more than three years ago.
"We are still talking with a lot of potential tenants, but no one is quite ready to pull the trigger," Valley Bank president and CEO Ellis Gutshall said.
Valley Bank bought the property and five adjoining acres when the shopping center went into foreclosure. Since then, the bank has demolished two buildings on the five acres just north of Ivy Market and prepared that land for development in hopes that someone will buy the property and complete phase two of the project.
In the meantime, the bank has worked with the Roanoke Regional Partnership to market the property to grocers including Kroger, Publix, Earth Fare, Whole Foods and Harris Teeter Some of those companies have seriously considered the site, but none has signed papers. The bank had hoped that Whole Foods would open a store at Ivy Market after it visited the site last year, but Gutshall said earlier this year that the grocer appeared to have passed up the opportunity.