A large group of Mabel-area residents gathered on Wednesday, April 3, to hear information from the committee working on establishing a grocery cooperative in Mabel. The meeting was facilitated by Cris Gastner, the Fillmore County economic development coordinator, and members of the committee answered a few questions from the community in regard to what will be needed to make the grocery coop become a reality.

Included in the meeting, Richard Carr from the Root River Market in Houston shared his community's process in establishing their coop nine years ago when their grocery store closed. That information was printed in last week's News-Record and can also be found on www.bluffcountrynews.com.

Gastner told the residents that the committee members, along with Mabel's economic development coordinator, Sherry Hines, are currently looking for a site on which to build a grocery store. Kirsten Wyffels, a member of the EDA and grocery store committee, explained it would be best if the EDA or a private developer would own the building and lease the space to the grocery coop. This frees the coop from having a heavy debt load, which allows it to use its credit to build inventory and equipment inside the store.

Wyffels added that while the EDA could construct the building, it would be preferable for a private developer to do in order to utilize local contractors. "If the EDA builds it, it would have to bid the project out," Wyffels explained. "That means anyone could bid and we would be obligated to accept the lowest bidder. We lose the flexibility of using our local contractors."

A private developer would be free to hire whomever he wanted to, specifically local businessmen, to do the project.

The location of the building is still up in the air as well. "Our first wish is to locate it on Main Street," said Hines. "If that can't happen, we have a back up plan."

One resident asked about the former Mabel Record building which had been gifted to the city by Don and Betty Gjere. She understood it was going to be demolished instead of used for the grocery.

"We had a structural engineer come in and go through the building," Wyffels explained. "He did not feel it was structurally sound and recommended that we tear it down and build new."

Hines added that a lot of the savings in a grocery store will come from the efficiencies of the building and in the equipment. "A new building will do that for us," she added.

Property value

On a side note, Hines explained to the residents that losing a grocery store in Mabel not only affected one's convenience to access supplies and food, but it also affected the property values within the community.

She shared that a resident had told her the value of his home had dropped significantly in the past year because the community had lost this economic asset.

Time line

When asked how long it would take to get a grocery store built and in operation, the committee members did not have an answer. There are still many steps that need to be completed, including the establishment of a corporation, selecting a board to oversee the operations, finding a site, building the building, equipping the building and stocking the shelves.

"Each step has varying time requirements," said Gastner.

Showing support

Jerry Gunderson, a resident attending the meeting, voiced his appreciation for the work the committee has done to this point. "It looks very promising right now," he added. "This is one of the things we need to work together on to make it work. I hope people support this - not only by using it, but with cash."

Community should be proud

In conclusion, Gastner complimented the community for its interest in the matter and for taking the time to attend the informational meeting. "You can be very, very proud of your community for coming and getting the information. I applaud you all for taking the time out of your evening," he added. "By showing your support, your committee knows it is headed in the right direction."

Hines told the community members that the committee will continue to work diligently on the project and future informational meetings will be held once more progress is made.

Following the meeting, she shared that she was very pleased with the turnout at the public meeting and that the committee members were very encouraged for the future success of the coop.