EYOTA — A town without a grocery store is a town without one of its key assets.
That’s a fate the city of Eyota hopes to avoid. Monday night, Mayor Tyrel Clark and other city leaders hosted a townhall meeting to talk about the grocery store and some of the options available to save it.
“The importance of it is greater than just a grocery store,” Clark said, adding that Eyota Market, which has been in business since 2007, is a gathering place and a business that impacts so much more than just where residents buy their groceries. “It’s so important to our community,” he said.
The 14,400-square-foot store was opened by local businessman Al Schumann. But when Schumann passed away several years ago, the store was part of his trust, which the family now feels obligated to close.
That means selling the store, said Vicki Arendt, one of Schumann’s heirs and one of two siblings who help run the store.
“Our dad asked us to do something with the grocery store, and that’s what we want to do, is keep it a grocery store,” Arendt said. “We wanted the city to be prepared for what our plans are for the future so that they could possibly come up with a solution.”
The crowd of more than 100 people heard options to save the store.
Hein Bloem and David Wilson, of the Root River Market Cooperative in Houston, explained how a co-op works, and how that model could be used to save Eyota Market. There, the co-op sells memberships of $100 to raise capital, and the store has even gone to the community for capital expenses.
“Because it’s a co-op, you can ask the community for support,” Wilson said.
The audience also heard from Eyota EDA Chairman Dale Heintz, who said the EDA would be willing to look for investor groups or help with funding mechanisms such as grants, tax-increment financing or tax-abatement financing.
Heintz stressed the city has no interest in taking over the store, but the EDA would like to help find someone who can. “We’re not talking about this being an entity of the government at all,” he said.
University of Minnesota Extension representatives also addressed the problem, adding they were there to help the city become successful once it found the right way to save the store, be it a co-op, investor group or entrepreneur.
Ren Olive, with UM Extension, said losing a grocery store would be a significant blow to the city’s profile and its ability to attract residents, other businesses and investment.
There’s also the loss of food access for residents, which is a significant blow to the community. “You’re traveling farther to access those resources,” Olive said.
Clark echoed the importance of having a store in the town for convenience for Eyota’s residents. Clark said he goes to the store three or four times per week, either eating lunch at the deli when he works from home or running to the store to buy ingredients for dinner.
“If we lose that grocery store, those last-minute things, we won’t be able to do anymore,” he said.
Olive added the loss of a grocery store would impact more than access to food. Property values and home values in town would drop if the store closed its doors.
“It’s a significant drop that the town can see because that’s a resource that people are looking for, and if the grocery store isn’t there, it can be detrimental to a lot of people,” Olive said. “A thriving grocery store means a thriving community.”
Arendt and her brother, Bob Schumann, said the family has talked to several potential buyers over the years, but none have worked out. None, however, were from Eyota.
Schumann said someone will make a good investment if they buy the store because the city is strong. “You’ve got a great community,” he said. “You’ve got a great school system. It’s a growing community.”