Cook County Whole Foods Co-op undertakes expansion planning

On Tuesday, April 24 at a meeting held at WTIP, the Cook County Whole Foods Co-op board of directors unanimously voted to demolish the current co-op building and replace it with a much larger store. Board members passing the motion were Alyssa Hedstrom, Rick Schubert, Erik Hahn, Barb LaVigne, Jeanne Wright, Linda Harvey and Nick Vavrichek.
Although final plans are yet to be completed, the new store will likely be about 6,000 square feet with 3,500 feet of retail space and 2,500 feet for offices, coolers, prep area, etc. The current store is 3,780 square feet with 1,620 feet of retail space and was not designed to be a grocery store. The building is not energy efficient, the roof leaks and there are other structural deficiencies.
To help finance the project the board has authorized an “Owner Loan Campaign” that will hopefully raise $600,000. The co-op has $350,000 in cash reserves and will be seeking loans from the local banks and the credit union, as well as a loan from North Country Cooperative Development Fund, which loans money to co-op’s for expansion, said general manager Jennifer Stolz.
Concerns have been raised however about the future of the mural created over a period of five years by Sawtooth Mountain Elementary 4th graders, under direction of local artist/author/teacher Kelly Dupre and teacher Jana Larson. Kelly Dupre met with the co-op board and reminded them that the murals, depicting the four seasons of the Northland, were created with the involvement of 250 students, more than 150 parent/adult volunteers. She also cited grants and donations from individuals, local businesses and Northland Foundation, Cook County Parent Teacher/Teacher Association, Cook County Schools Education Foundation, Education Minnesota and more.
And she reminded the board that two of the murals have been dedicated to the remembrance of the late David Pederson and Zack Mellang. “There are lots of folks connected to it [the mural]. So I hope we can save it,” Dupre told the board.
Co-op board members discussed the logistics of preserving the mural and said the estimated to keep the mural is $25,000 to do it right.
After much discussion the board agreed to look at hiring an art restoration expert—if it isn’t too expensive—and see what they would suggest. All of the board members said they liked and appreciated the mural and all of the hard work that went into creating it. Suggestions included using pieces of it inside the new building if it couldn’t be saved, or to take a high-resolution picture of the mural and use that in some way inside the new store.
“If it can’t be saved, we want to at least keep the spirit of the mural. We know it means a lot to a lot of people,” said Vavrichek.