MENNO — About five years ago, Menno feared losing the only grocery store in the town of 600 residents.
Now, the downtown store is doing so well that plans call for building a new 8,500-square-foot supermarket — twice the current size — along U.S. Highway 18.
And it’s being done with the money from area residents and others who formed a public corporation.
The store has seen rapid growth since shareholders purchased the former private business, said Menno banker Dave Bender, who serves as the Menno Food Market board chairman.
“The store’s sales have doubled since we (shareholders) purchased it,” he said. “We are hoping for another 20 percent increase by the time we are done, just with the additional space.”
The shareholders recently purchased a site along U.S. Highway 18 on Menno’s northern outskirts, Bender said. Depending on financing, the grocery could move from downtown to its new location in about two years, if not sooner.
“We hope that construction will start by fall 2014, maybe even next spring,” he said. “Once they get started, the crews could get the store built in three to four months.”
The new location will not only better serve local customers but also tap into highway traffic, Bender said.
“We will be the only grocery store on Highway 18 between I-29 and Lake Andes,” he said. “During the summer, we could pick up campers and boats to and from the (Missouri) river.”
The current downtown site can’t handle the business growth of recent years, Bender said.
“We are maxed out of floor space, and our sales continue to grow. With more room available, we would be able to offer more products,” he said. “We will also offer things like better handicapped accessibility and bigger aisles. Right now, it’s hard for two carts to go down the same aisle.”
Plans call for the expansion from 4,400 square feet at the current site to 8,500 square feet with 24 parking spaces at the new location, said store manager Shawn Black.
“We will double the space of the perishable (food) departments. We currently have 17 freezer doors, and with the new store we will have 35 freezer doors,” he said. “One of the bigger benefits is the cooler space. Your walk-in closet at home is larger than our walk-in freezer. Your walk-in closet is also probably larger than our dairy case.”
The shareholders look to finalize the financing and construction plans at the annual meeting next March, Black said.
“We may talk about a possible share drive. I would say we are easily talking six to seven figures for a new store, possibly around $800,000 to $1 million,” he said. “We will also need to budget for added inventory. If you have twice the space, we figure you will need twice the inventory.”
With expanded space and business, the Menno Food Market will also likely expand on its current 14 full- and part-time employees, Black said.
Affiliated Foods, the wholesaler which serves the Menno grocery, has provided a suggested blueprint for the new store, said Dale Weiss, a Menno Food Market shareholder and former board member,
“(Affiliated officials) have given us advice and some parameters that they require when it comes to truck deliveries,” he said. “When we move into the new store, the equipment will be state of the art. There will be more variety with the products in the store. Right now, there’s no room to expand. To accommodate any new products, you have to pull out something and find space. It will also be nice to have a larger refrigerated area to work in.”
Despite the numerous advantages of the highway location, Weiss noted some local residents preferred retaining a downtown location for the store.
“There are a few, a minority, who are concerned that it will slow down foot traffic on Main Street. But we’re not really moving out of town,” he said. “We’ll be right around the corner (from Main Street), and we’ll draw more people to Menno.”
Black said he has also heard some concerns from people who are concerned about downtown or who like the current location for convenience. However, overall feedback has been mostly positive.
“The construction costs are less than if you remained at the downtown site and needed to tear down the building and have the expense of site prep,” he said. “You will also see additional traffic. The state DOT (Department of Transportation) has estimated that 1,000 cars a day go by that location. According to my projections, we could see a 30 percent increase in business by relocating to the highway.”
Even a fraction of the traffic would make a significance difference in store business, Weiss said. “If just one of 25 travelers stopped at the market, that would increase our customers quite a bit,” he said.
As far as the current downtown location, the Menno Food Market board would seek another use for the facility that would benefit the community, Bender said.
The Menno Food Market considers its primary trade area as within a 10-mile radius of Menno with more than 1,200 customers, Black said. The store has grown because of extended hours, fresh meat and produce, competitive pricing, customer service and special promotions, he said.
“This has succeeded because people believed in what we are trying to accomplish,” he said. “It’s the dedication of the town to what we are doing here.”
Bender agreed. “People support (the store). They take great pride in it and invest in it. The new store marks another step forward,” he said.
Menno residents have already shown their belief in their community by saving their store, Black said.
“It was a heroic act for the citizens to recognize that they needed to keep their grocery and for the shareholders to step in and fund the store,” he said.
“Now, it’s not just a matter of keeping the store open. We want to do much more. We want to turn that community pride into the type of grocery store that the town deserves.”
For more information about the grocery store, visit online at www.mennofoodmarket.com.