Mississippi Market moving south

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Mississippi Market, one of the oldest natural foods co-ops in the Twin Cities metro area, recently announced plans to build a new store at the Victoria Park development, located at the intersection of West 7th and Otto Streets in Saint Paul. The new store will replace the Mississippi Market store at 1810 Randolph Avenue.

When I visited Mississippi Market on Earth Day, I found a wide array of foods and condiments, including organic pineapple, acorn squash, fresh coconut, papaya, safflower mayonnaise, an assortment of teas, fair trade coffees, and organic carrot juice. I saw environmentally friendly cleaning products, such as the 7th Generation laundry detergent with blue eucalyptus and lavender, Restore the Earth dish soap, and glass cleaner near a handy refill station. Brightly colored flowers carried a “locally grown” label. Gift possibilities included earrings and soy candles.

Mississippi Market started in the 1970s, when many neighborhood co-ops were scattered around the city. Some members of Merri-Grove Co-op wanted to open a second store, while others did not. A splinter group formed the Mississippi Market, opening it in a small storefront on St. Clair. In 1991, the co-op moved to the store on Randolph. When a second store opened at Selby and Dale, higher-than-expected building costs strained finances.

“When I came on board in 1999,” says Mississippi Market general manager Gail Graham, “there were significant financial difficulties. I came to assist in determining the future course of the co-op.”

After a year-long conversation with the adjacent Saint Paul Academy (SPA), Mississippi Market sold the property to SPA for its future expansion needs, retaining a five-year lease for the store.

According to Graham, their original goal was to find another piece of property in the Macalester-Groveland neighborhood, but then Brighton Development invited Mississippi Market to relocate and build a new store in the Victoria Park development. Also in the works at Victoria Park is the new Sholom Community Alliance Housing which includes a full care nursing facility, rental housing for seniors, and assisted living.

The new store will have approximately 7, 000 square feet of retail space, with room for ample parking and future expansion at the site. According to Graham, the next few months will be spent looking at “all of the contingencies around the financing, zoning, and to make sure there are no unknown environmental issues.”

Graham notes “a certain irony in the fact that a natural foods store is going into a brownfield.” The new site once contained a fuel oil tank farm, which has undergone intensive remediation efforts.

Graham calls the decision to leave the Mac Groveland neighborhood “bittersweet,” noting that some customers are not happy with the decision to move, though others are delighted. She says she has learned that the West Seventh community is really excited about the co-op’s plan to move to the neighborhood. There will be jobs at the new store for all of the employees from the Randolph location, with the prospect of hiring additional employees, once the store has opened.

Each of the two current Mississippi Market stores has a distinctive personality, and Graham expects the new store to be unique as well. She says they will be adding a line of kosher items to meet the needs of the Jewish community at Sholom and the many Russian Jews who live in the West Seventh neighborhood.

If all goes as planned, the new store will open in July 2009.

Mary Thoemke, a lifelong resident of St. Paul, lives in the North End neighborhood. Now working as a freelance writer, Mary is retired from the St. Paul Public Schools. She also served as editor of the North End News, a community newspaper.