3 years in the making, North Market is set to open its doors this month
Webber-Camden will have a full service grocery store beginning Dec. 13. North Market is an enterprise of Pillsbury United Communities.
North News is also an enterprise of PUC. PUC does not have any editorial control over the paper.
By Cirien Saadeh | Staff Reporter
Bright orange and gleaming silvery-gray, North Market is much more than a grocery store on the corner of 44th and Humboldt Ave. N.
Set to open on Dec. 13, the market is currently teeming with life as staff members stock shelves and construction crews erect signage, complete the electrical system, and handle other finishing touches.
North Market - a grocery store and wellness center in partnership with North Memorial – is a project of Pillsbury United Communities (PUC). It is one of the few full-service grocery stores in North Minneapolis. It is located in Webber-Camden on the site of a former Kowalski’s, a high-end grocery chain.
The grocery store is an exciting new business in Webber-Camden, which recently saw the opening of the Webber Library and all-natural Webber Swimming Pool. Both the library and North Market were designed by the same architecture firm, LSE Architects.
“Two years ago, at our annual meeting, we celebrated the opening of the swimming pool. One year ago, we celebrated the library. Next year we can celebrate North Market. Things like that just don’t always happen,” said Linda Koelman, Chair of the Webber-Camden Neighborhood Organization and twenty-year resident of the Northside.
The neighborhood-wide development is also exciting for both residents and local business owners.
“The development is going to be good for the whole neighborhood. Especially the senior citizens across the way who can walk across the street to get their groceries,” said James Savoren, owner of Savoren Services North, a local auto shop. Savoren has owned his Northside business for forty years, and even though he isn't a Northsider, he is excited to just cross the street for groceries when he needs to.
That is the same for Koelman who has been buying her groceries at the Cub Foods in Brooklyn Center in recent years.
“I would have rather kept the money in the neighborhood, but we couldn’t,” said Koelman, “I am excited to have things for a salad and fresh fruit near by and to be able to buy that stuff when I want to. I don’t have to plan ahead to get my groceries anymore.”
There are very few grocery stores in North Minneapolis: a Cub Foods on West Broadway Ave., an Aldi on Penn and Lowry Ave., So-Low on Emerson Ave., and an abundance of convenience stores, including Webber Mart just down the street from the market.
“Kevin at Webber Mart does a great job. But it’s not the same as having a grocery store,” said Koelman.
The process of creating North Market began in 2014. PUC staff had been working with Hunger-Free Minnesota to explore WIC underutilization in the Northside, and a mobile WIC market was dreamt up to solve for that challenge. It ultimately fizzled due to a lack of state support. Eventually, that dream morphed into what is now North Market, inspired in part by a community in Philadelphia that was opening its own grocery store.
PUC began exploring the feasibility of opening in the grocery store in the Northside, analyzing six sites. At the same time Hennepin County put out an RFI – Requests for Interest – for the site at 44th and Humboldt Ave. N. After engaging with the community, PUC put in a bid, which included a letter of support from the Webber-Camden Neighborhood Organization. Other organizations and businesses, including a daycare, liquor store, a church, and a business incubator, also put in proposals for the site.
The site had been vacant since 2005 when Kowalski’s closed; it was a long-running Supervalu before that. Webber-Camden does not have a full-service grocery store and for many years the neighborhood organization bussed residents from Hamilton Manor (an apartment complex directly to the East of the North Market site) to the Cub Foods on West Broadway, three miles away.
“That just wasn’t accessible for people. They had to head out in the cold, get their groceries, and get them back to their apartment. The bus left at designated times, too. It just didn’t work for people,” said Koelman.
At the same time, some community residents felt Kowalski’s wasn’t affordable for them The price point for most of Kowalski’s products are much higher than that of Cub Foods, which opened just a few months before Kowalski’s announced that it was closing. Kowalski’s came to North Minneapolis as part of a deal with the City of Minneapolis. Kowalski’s could purchase other parcels, if they also purchased the North Minneapolis site. Kowalski’s did not respond to a request for comment.
“It was a Kowalski’s in name only. They would engage the community. We tried to show them that the store was needed, but it was a constant feeling of ‘yeah, they’re not going to keep it,’” said Koelman, who argued that the Kowalski’s wasn’t as nice as other Kowalski’s.
According to Vanan Murugesan, the Project Manager for North Market and a former mechanical engineer for Supervalu, affordability has been at the front of their minds in the planning, development, and building of the grocery store. According to Murugesan, the North Market team is excited for the competition -- stores like the new Hy-Vee opening up in Robbinsdale, the new Wirth Co-op, and surrounding Cub Foods. They plan to ensure North Market's prices are competitive.
“Even those we don’t have the dollars per se of each item, we do have profit margins of each category, and when that was set, it showed that we would be able to be sustainable. That’s looking from a micro-perspective. However, right now, at the end of the day, even within the categories, it’s going to be a mix. Our commitment is to be very, very competitive and that will ensure that the core, key items are priced at an affordable rate,” said Murugesan.
According to Savoren, his customers are excited for the new grocery store: “They just cannot talk about it enough,” he said.
“When there is more competition, it means people will be more eager to serve people better, as opposed to being the one store in the area. We welcome competition because we believe it benefits the entire community. That we being said, we provide a very different set of experiences compared to all the other stores,” said Murugesan, who is primarily tasked with business operations, business strategy, and project sustainability.
According to Murugesan, that different experience is what he calls a “friendly, simple, quick, clean shopping experience for our customers.” This experience includes the wellness clinic and health and fitness programs, and a significant amount of space dedicated to local produce — though no set number has been announced yet.
THE COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY ENGAGEMENT
Koelman notes that PUC has provided regular updates to Webber-Camden and sought feedback as they moved throughout North Market development.
Adair Mosley, the interim President and CEO for PUC says the organization is committed to “ongoing engagement.”
“Largely what we’re doing is bringing everything back in front of the community, and so that is where we captured a lot of the ideas around product mix and vendors and design, all of those things including what kind of classes they wanted to see. So now we’re bringing that back in front of them and saying ‘here’s the response to what you told us you wanted to see and are we meeting that need,’” said Mosley.
Despite the community engagement, however, there are still concerns regarding the sustainability of such a project, which cost over $6 million to build.
"I would shop there as long as the community was benefitting from North Market,” said Alfonzo Gorman, a long-time Northsider, who now gets his groceries at Cub Foods. Gorman wants to see people hired from the community and a grocery invested in the Northside’s success.
The project is funded by a host of philanthropic and corporate partners. Cargill Foundation and Otto Bremer Trust are two of the biggest funders. Other funders include General Mills, who has also provided in-kind support, and Target.
The biggest donor to the project, however, was the State of Minnesota through an appropriation written into the Omnibus Jobs and Economic Growth Finance and Policy Bill during the 2017 legislative session. The State of Minnesota awarded PUC $2 million for North Market. The original request was for $3 million. The original Senate legislation, S.F. 1287, was authored by Senator Bobby Joe Champion (DFL-North Minneapolis) and Senator Kari Dziedzic (DFL), who represents parts of Northeast Minneapolis, Southeast Minneapolis, Cedar-Riverside, and Seward neighborhoods. The corresponding House legislation, H.F. 1828, was authored by Representative Fue Lee (DFL) and Representative Raymond Dehn (DFL), both of whom represent North Minneapolis.
“It’s going to be a huge asset to the Northside,” said Lee, who noted that the health services component of the market is particularly needed. “I’m really glad PUC is able to partner up with North Memorial and bring that to North Minneapolis,” he said.
Murugesan notes that the funding from both the state and philanthropic sources will keep the cost of the build-out from impacting product costs, which he says often happens in new development.
A DEEPER LOOK INSIDE
According to appraisal records for the new North Market site, the original space was 15,000 square feet. The store has since been expanded, however. 16,000 square feet will be dedicated to the grocery store, an additional 1,900 square feet will be used by North Memorial for a health and wellness center, which will be staffed by community health workers, a dietician/nutritionist, and a pharmacist, employed by North Memorial. The remaining 2,100 square feet are devoted to community gathering spaces.
“It’s our job to care not just when people are sick, but to get involved in preventative care,” said Michael Koch, Project Manager with North Memorial Clinically Integrated Network. “This is our backyard, the community we build in and want to invest in,” he said. On its website, North Memorial prides itself on approach to health care, which include a community paramedic program and a house call-like option.
The North Memorial space at North Market also includes a community classroom and workout space. North Market and North Memorial will offer classes and trainings, including meal prep and fitness classes hosted by community partners beginning in December. Grocery store tours for those exploring healthy eating, among other programming, will also be offered.
For many Northside food systems leaders, North Market is not just an important resource for healthy living. It is also a sign of North Minneapolis’ economic transformation, a transformation being guided by food systems change.
“Wirth Coop and North Market are going to be the people’s grocery store, part and parcel of the community, and not an occupying force,” said Michael Chaney, Executive Director of Project Sweetie Pie, a Northside food and economic justice organization. “Residents should look to North Market and Wirth Coop. Let’s do business with who wants to do business with us, respects us, and wants to see the community thrive,” he said.
For people like Koelman, and the dreamers and designers behind North Market, Dec. 13 is a huge day. Koelman is still in disbelief.
“‘Bright orange. I love it! It looks happy and welcoming to me. I saw the orange and I thought, ‘I hope they’re leaving it.’ It makes me want to go inside,” said Koelman, “I think we’ll notice a huge attitude change up here, because North Market will give people something they can rely on. What a tremendous gift to the community.”
According to Mosley and Murugesan, North Market is intended to be a lasting, community fixture.
“I always think we have the possibility of doing great things like this, but to really see it in action is a little surreal. We’ve had an incredible amount of partners and people who have helped bring this to fruition, but knowing that it was our idea and that we’re the genesis of that, I can think of no better way to serve this community,” said Mosley, who has lived in North Minneapolis for 15 years.