Seward Co-op will move to bigger location amid member increase

The Twin Cities has more co-op gorcery stores than any other metropolitan area.

by Kelly Gulbrandson

With 11 co-op grocery stores in the metro area, competition over things like organic bananas and locally raised beef remains healthy.

While North Country Co-op Grocery closed in November, Seward Co-op Grocery and Deli is not facing the same demise. In fact, Tom Vogel, marketing and member services manager for the co-op, said the store is expanding and moving from its current location at 2111 E. Franklin Ave. to a bigger location at Franklin and Riverside avenues.

The groundbreaking ceremony was held Tuesday.

“With the increase of our members, we are bursting at the seams at our current location,” he said.

At least 50 people attended the ceremony, Vogel said, including Mike Christensen, director of community planning and economic development for Minneapolis, who replaced Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, who was unable to attend.

Kim Kusnier, marketing programs specialist for the National Cooperative Grocers Association said the situation with North Country’s closing is different from current trends, because co-ops are generally increasing in popularity.

“People are paying more attention to where their food comes from,” she said.

Seward Co-op mostly targets the Seward and Phillips neighborhoods, Vogel said, whereas North Country served the University’s West Bank and Augsburg College area.

“We have gotten a lot of support from the Seward community for our expansion,” he said.

The number of Seward’s members was increasing before North Country closed, Vogel said, but the closing is part of the reason for the increase in business, because the two stores were located about six blocks apart.

“Everyone at Seward is sad about North Country closing, but we are accommodating their customers as best we can,” he said.

No other metropolitan area in the country has more co-op grocery stores, Vogel said.

Valley Natural Foods Co-op in Burnsville is also expanding. Charli Mills of Valley Natural said it has been open for 30 years and is expanding its food selection because of increasing business.

“We have seen numerous days with over 1,000 customers,” she said.

While anyone can shop at a co-op, people who invest in the store become a member to essentially have part ownership of the store.

“We are here to serve the community,” Mills said.

Despite the general success of co-ops, they aren’t always without problems.

Informing the public of what a co-op is, and that anyone can shop at one can be a challenge, Kusnier said. The awareness of co-ops is growing, she said, but the stores have always been somewhat mysterious.

Despite the high number of Twin Cities co-ops, some students don’t shop at them.

Kinesiology senior Matt Johnson said he went to a co-op once to get a specific type of cranberry juice he couldn’t find anywhere else. He said he hasn’t shopped there since because they’re in inconvenient locations and are more expensive than other grocery stores.

“They can charge more because they carry things that other stores don’t,” Johnson said.

Communications senior Robert Cobb said he has never been to a co-op grocery store because there isn’t one close to where he lives, and doesn’t have much free time to shop.

“I eat out a lot,” he said. “When I do go grocery shopping, I just go to Rainbow or Cub – whichever is closer.”