The Lanesboro Local Marketplace for locally produced food and products will be no more after Jan. 31. In an open letter to producers and consumers, the Lanesboro Local Board of Directors announced an upcoming transition of the marketplace to a privately-owned grocery store. Lanesboro Local will continue to be a non-profit organization seeking to connect local producers with consumers, but will not have a physical space.

Lanesboro Local has been in downtown Lanesboro since it opened in 2009 at the old gas station location. The organization's founders, Kitty Baker, Mary Bell and Nancy Martinson, had received a roughly $8,000 grant from the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation and with increasing support from the community, began to sell locally-made products.

In 2010, it moved to a location within the Cottage House Inn complex and was licensed to begin selling food. Over the three years in that space, the organization made numerous connections with producers around the area.

Board member Loni Kemp estimated they received around 25 new members every year. With more producers' products in the store, Lanesboro Local ran out of room.

Phil and Heidi Dybing stepped in with an offer to allow Lanesboro Local to use the renovated DeVilliers building. The organization moved in during June of 2013 and was able to enjoy the increased space.

"That was at the peak of our success," said Kemp, explaining that after the busy season passed, board members realized that Lanesboro Local had grown too large to be managed as a non-profit.

"There have been a lot of people that have wanted a grocery store for quite some time," explained board member Nancy Martinson. "This is a likely time to make this happen."

The Dybings will continue to own the building and, on Feb. 1, the store will begin running as a for-profit business. According to the Dybings, it is not yet clear who will be running the store and what the goals of the new grocery store will be. The negotiation process is ongoing.

Consigners that are currently selling their goods at the marketplace have been informed that their goods will need to be taken out of building by the end of January. Lanesboro Local will continue to operate under normal January business hours and customers may even see some sales on products. Hours are 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

It is still unclear what space will be made available at the new store for consigners currently accustomed to selling their goods through Lanesboro Local. Kemp noted that Lanesboro Local will continue to be what she called a "business incubator" for the over 100 consigners.

The organization's board of directors has been meeting together and are going through a planning process to decide what Lanesboro Local will become in the future. Currently, the plan is to continue running the website where are the producers and consumers can still connect. The website may also experience some upgrades.

Kemp explained Lanesboro Local will also evolve the opportunities for producers and consumers to meet. Ideas include organizing and holding classes for interested participants. Topics could include anything from educating future producers on licensure to informing consumers on how to use unfamiliar products.

"It's going to be a citizen organization with a mission to connect producers of food, goods and services with buyers to strengthen our local communities," explained Kemp.

She stressed Lanesboro Local will continue to look for ways to tell the stories of the producers. "Consumers are hungry for a local connection. It develops loyalty," she added.

Kemp said the current transition is one that will lead to growth. She compared the beginnings of Lanesboro Local to a seed and what it has begun to develop into to a large plant and even a tree. "I think they [producers] understand the evolution of this."

Paul and Karen Schmidt, who sell products under SunFresh Foods and Schmidt House Candle and Bath, explained their mixed feelings toward Lanesboro Local leaving the building. "I loved that building," said Paul, who also expressed support for Lanesboro Local in sticking with their original mission to help locate local producers and be a source of information for producers and consumers.

Paul sells in-season organic asparagus, garlic and Shiitake mushrooms. "A majority of our volume didn't go through the store. It was an add-on," he explained.

He said he would be interested in being a part of the new grocery store if the opportunity is there.

Local artist Joni Finnegan, who sold reproductions of her paintings on the second-level of the building, commented, "Change is scary for everybody."

She explained there had been an important social connection fostered through the physical setting where both food and art vendors could connect. However, she noted, "If it is right for Lanesboro Local, it will be right for the community. One door never closes without at least two more doors opening."

More details will come forward in the coming months as the Dybings figure out exactly what will go in the stead of Lanesboro Local and as the organization's board of directors determines how Lanesboro Local will continue to positively impact the producers and consumers of southeastern Minnesota.