MARQUETTE - More than four decades after the co-op concept came to town, construction began this week at the Marquette Food Co-op's new and larger facility at 502 W. Washington St.
General Manager Matt Gougeon said the co-op needs more space than its current building at 109 W. Baraga Ave. provides.
"We've absolutely outgrown our current facility," Gougeon said. "Over the last four years, we've grown by over 40 percent, so we definitely need more room and members have desired a full-service deli, meat counter, wider aisles, more parking and more local products."
Miriam Hilton, a member of the Marquette Food Co-op since 1972, breaks ground at a Friday ceremony celebrating what will be the new co-op at 502 W. Washington St. (Journal photo by Christie Bleck)
The co-op has been in the Baraga facility since 2002, Gougeon said, although it's a 42-year-old organization.
The co-op now is owned by 3,600 members, who are the impetus for the operation itself, he said.
"Co-ops exist to serve the needs of our members," Gougeon said.
And the Marquette membership has spoken.
"So, that's what we strive to do: to sell organic and local," he said.
The new facility is planned to be 20,230 square feet.
To date, co-op members have purchased $282,000 in preferred shares, with more shares available, according to a prepared statement from the organization.
Funding partners include Range Bank, the Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund, Northern Initiatives and the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
The federal shutdown has affected the financing because part of the co-op's deal was a U.S. Department of Agriculture loan guarantee on its loan with Range Bank. With the shutdown, the USDA closed, effectively ending the co-op's bid for federal government backing on the project, Gougeon said.
However, he said Range Bank is retooling the financing package and additional financing is being sought from the Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund and Northern Initiatives. The co-op also is anticipating funds from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation.
Nora Jungwirth, who works in the deli at the current co-op, said she's excited about the expansion because she will be able to interact with people more.
"We're a really small department now," Jungwirth said of the Baraga building deli.
Gougeon said construction will continue through the winter and the he hopes the co-op store is in in the Washington building in April 2014.
Longtime co-op member Miriam Hilton turned over the first shovelful of dirt at the honorary groundbreaking ceremony.
"Always been in favor of co-ops," Hilton said. "They're a good thing."
Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.