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March 27, 2014

Terre Foods looking at downtown sites

Group hopes to have store open in 2015

TERRE HAUTE — Leaders of Terre Foods Cooperative Market have hopes of opening their member-owned, whole foods grocery store next year and are progressing on finding a site.

Terre Foods Board President Chris Weber told the Tribune-Star on Wednesday that three sites have been identified as a potential home for the planned full-service, for-profit grocery store, which will offer local organic whole foods. Because negotiations are ongoing, Weber said he could not yet provide any more specific details about the sites. He did say that all three of them are in the downtown area.

“Quality food seems to be a strong component of the downtown revitalization,” Weber said, “and we think we’ll be an important part of that.” The store will also help attract and retain businesses and people to the community, he said.

Members of the board spent the winter vetting dozens of potential sites for the market, a crucial piece to the process, Weber said. An initial market analysis showed that all three sites are feasible. The next stages will be to conduct a full market study to make sure they are forming a “sustainable, successful store,” Weber said.

As each task gets completed (such as site identification, market study, among others), Terre Foods will be able to pinpoint a more definite date for opening.

“It is our hope to open sometime early next year, but … we will do the due diligence to make sure the store is [going to be] successful,” Weber said.

The goal is “to open a full-service, for profit grocery store in the downtown environment that’s going to meet the needs of the community and the member owners,” Weber said.

“It’s got to be done right.”

In addition to looking at a downtown location, Weber said other criteria they have for the site — a building or a place to build on — include size and accessibility.

A suitable size for the store is around 4,500 to 8,000 square feet in retail space, plus warehousing, Weber said. The site’s square footage has to be large enough “to generate enough sales to be successful.”

Once a site has been identified, Weber said Terre Foods will launch a capital campaign, which will include three parts. The first is a loan campaign inviting the member-owners — currently about 700 of them — to loan money toward the project,  which could potentially cost about $2 million to $3 million, Weber said.

It would be an investment opportunity for member-owners — those who have bought a share of ownership into the store — and rates of return would be outlined when the campaign starts, Weber said.

The second part is community-driven funding (development grants, services, community investment, etc.) to help complete the project.

The third is the “traditional method” of having banks or a financial institution complete the package, Weber said.

Terre Foods is also in the process of hiring a general manager, who will run the day-to-day operations of the store.

After conducting preliminary interviews, the hiring committee has identified three finalists. They are currently preparing for final interviews, Weber said.

Tribune-Star Reporter Dianne Frances D. Powell can be reached at 812-231-4299 or dianne.powell@tribstar.com.

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