Members of the committee working to bring a grocery store back to the Mabel-area community have invited local residents to attend an informational meeting on Wednesday, April 3, at 7 p.m. at the Mabel Area Community Center.

Residents can expect to learn more about the development of a grocery coop, how they can become members and how the process of establishing this coop is progressing.

At a committee meeting held earlier this month, the members discussed what has been accomplished so far and what challenges still face them as they work to bring this needed resource back to the community.

A great deal of research has been completed, as well as a feasibility study and a plan as to what it will take to make a grocery store work in Mabel. Cris Gastner, the Fillmore County EDA coordinator, is working on the development of a business plan.

Committee members, along with Sherry Hines, Mabel's EDA coordinator, have met with other grocery store owners in the area, including the Hoiness family in Harmony and Rushford and Pat "Red" Longmire of Red's IGA in Spring Grove. They also met with members of the Houston grocery cooperative, which has been operating for 13 years.

A community survey was also sent out to Mabel-area residents. Nearly 200 surveys were returned with only 16 indicating that they would not support a new grocery store in Mabel. Of those responding, 82 said they would buy the majority of their groceries there; 52 said they would buy at least half of their groceries there and 43 indicated they would buy their necessities there, such as milk, bread and eggs.

The result of those steps is the knowledge that a grocery store in Mabel would work best if it was a cooperative - with the EDA likely owning the building and leasing it to the cooperative. The consumer-owned cooperative would be governed by a board of directors, elected by the membership with each member having one vote.

Hines said that if a private developer would be interested in constructing the building and leasing it to the cooperative, that would also be a good option. She added that if a private developer would take on that project, it would be easier to use local contractors to do the build.

"If the EDA owns the building and builds it, they would have to go through the bidding process and open it up to outside bidders and would have to take the low bid," she explained. "If a private developer builds the building, they could hire whomever they wanted to do the job."

If the EDA were to build the building, it could apply for assistance to equip the building and continue to maintain it.

Hines explained that the committee members are currently working on securing the location of the grocery store. The desired site would be across the street from the former grocery store location. Several residents have been talking with property owners in that area to try and work out arrangements to purchase the now-empty buildings.

Don Gjere has donated the former Mabel Record building, located on the corner, for the purpose of helping the cause. After evaluating the structure, it was determined that the building would likely be demolished and the site cleared. Tax Increment Financing dollars could possibly be used to clear the site and prepare it for development.

To make everything work, the cooperative would need to raise $400,000 for equipment and inventory to stock the store. If the cooperative had to build the building, an additional $300,000 would have to be raised.

The cooperative members have a vision for the future grocery store so that it will not only provide a location to purchase foods and supplies, but also house a small pharmacy so local residents will not need to drive out of town to get their medications.

Future steps in the process include the public meeting on Wednesday when members of the cooperative committee are prepared to answer questions from the community. While they admitted that they may not have all the answers, they all feel they are in a good place to explain the information and share their enthusiasm for moving forward with this project as well as their ideas for what the grocery store may look like.

Another step is to form a board of directors for the cooperative. Hines said there needs to be a good cross section of residents to represent all aspects of the community on the board.

Leah Austin, a young mother living in Mabel, said she is looking forward to having a grocery store in town again. "It's mainly for the convenience," she said. "I like to buy things on a day-to-day basis. I don't like to plan my meals out days at a time. Plus, packing up a child and leaving town to get groceries isn't at all convenient."

If one has questions or ideas to share with the cooperative board, plan on attending the public meeting on Wednesday evening in Mabel. One is also welcome to contact Hines through the city offices or committee member Michelle Weidemann.