Fresh and locally imported fruits, vegetables, and other organic products are surrounded by pumpkin orange walls painted with low-VOC paint. A sealed concrete floor is so shiny that it is hard to believe the floor hasn’t been waxed and will never need wax. Eleven skylights in the ceiling warmly embrace and openly invite the sun’s natural light into the building. The pure organic and “green” feel of the new Mississippi Market Co-op which opened July 16 on West 7th Street in Saint Paul, is almost tangible.
The co-op, which now boasts a deli with a juice bar, hot bar, and salad bar, along with certified organic foods, has been a part of the Saint Paul community since 1979. Since its early days, the co-op expanded to two locations, one on Selby Avenue and the other on Randolph Avenue. The store on Randolph closed earlier this month to be replaced by the new 13,000-square-foot store on West 7th Street, which is about the same size as the Selby store but almost double that of the store it replaced.
All about recycling and conservation
Besides being an organic food lover’s dream come true, the store boasts several sustainable and eco-friendly features, leaving no part of the building un-“green.” Though the same size as the store on Selby Avenue, it is estimated that the new store will produce 530 tons of carbon dioxide per year, while the Selby Avenue store produced 860 tons in 2008. The new store’s low-VOC wall paint reduces toxin emissions into the air. Fly ash, a byproduct of coal burning, composes 20 percent of the sealed and stained floor, and 45 percent of the building’s exterior walls.
The carpet is 100 percent recycled. The large windows and customer service desk counters are refurbished, made of used materials from other co-ops like Seward Co-op Grocery and Deli and Valley Natural Foods. Some 75 percent of the entire store’s construction waste was recycled. An added plus: daily waste produced by the co-op’s deli is sent to local farms for animal feed.
Also important is the co-op’s attention to energy conservation. Several LEED-approved sustainable features allow the new store to save 42 percent more energy than a typical store its size. White thermoplastic olefin (TPO) roofing reflects the sun’s light, keeping the building cool. LED freezer lights, fluorescents, and automatic dim lighting during the day produce less heat and save energy. Shades cover the open coolers at night, saving 30 percent of energy that would have otherwise been lost to the air. Heat produced by the air-conditioning system is reused by the heat recapturing unit to warm the building’s water.
To prevent ground erosion, underground tanks store rainwater before slowly releasing it to the rain gardens. The rain gardens further reduce rainwater flow into sewers by absorbing runoff into the ground first. Even the restroom contributes to water conservation: a duoflush sensor in the toilet can tell when to use more or less water for each flush.
The public is encouraged to be involved in the co-op’s mission to conserve and recycle. If co-op shoppers bring their own bags, they are paid five cents per bag as part of the Eco-Stamp program. Rather than keep the stamps, shoppers usually donate them to the store’s designated beneficiary organization, which changes every two months. For June and July, Midwest Food Connection will be presented with an estimated $400 in donations from Mississippi Market Coop. Great River Greening will be receiving donations from the co-op in August and September. In 2008, the co-op donated a total of $6,000 to local non-profit organizations.
No LEED certification
The new store’s “green” record meets the prestigious LEED-Gold standard – a level second best only to LEED-Platinum. However, the co-op did not apply for LEED certification due to the high registration and certification costs required. The costs could have reached over $5,700.
“[LEED certification] is pretty pricey. We thought the money we spent was wiser spent putting [in] more green features,” said Darci Gauthier, the co-op’s Marketing and Member Services Manager.
According to staff member Amanda LaVoie, the store had initially met the LEED-silver standard, but not applying for LEED certification allowed the store to install more new sustainable features that the older Selby and Randolph stores did not have. These include the expanded space for bike racks, reserved parking for hybrids and compact cars, and showers for staff members who choose to bike to work, in addition to most of the new store’s sustainable features.
From the community and for the community
In the co-op’s 2008 annual report on sustainability and impact, the board of directors said it was obvious that the building at Randolph was “in need of multiple expensive repairs, the staff [had] very limited work and break space, and, because membership and sales [kept] growing. We knew we were going to run out of space.”
“We’ve been looking for a new site for three years,” said Gauthier. “We found two locations, but they needed a lot of repairs. So we decided we needed a new location.” Although construction would be expensive, especially in the West 7th neighborhood, Mississippi Market Co-op decided to take the financial risk and build in “a neighborhood eager for access to natural foods and economic revitalization,” according to its annual report.
According to the Mississippi Market’s 2008 annual report on sustainability and impact, 41% of the co-op’s food sales were of locally made products or from Minnesota-owned businesses in 2008. The West 7th store’s meat cutting plant, new to the co-op as a whole, also uses meat bought locally. According to LaVoie, “90 percent of our meat comes from within a 150-mile radius in the Twin Cities.”
The co-op is based on a member-owner system, with about 9,600 members who have each bought a share of the co-op by making a stock investment.
“75 percent of our business goes to [our members],” said Gauthier. “The other 25 percent draws from neighborhoods around us.” Gauthier believes that this “strong core” of consumers and members will lead to the co-op’s success, regardless of any potential competition from other organic markets or grocery stores.
However, LaVoie says the co-op saw a 10% drop in sales when the Trader Joe’s on the corner of Lexington Parkway and Randolph opened in June. Gauthier acknowledges that the Twin Cities is “a saturated area for markets and shopping but we’re not worried. We encourage competition because it keeps us on our toes. We just focus on getting the best organic foods and selling them at affordable prices.”
The new store’s opening ceremony began with almost 250 people present to hear Mayor Chris Coleman’s remarks. After a few more speeches, “we just went in and shopped!” said Gauthier. Mini-classes like “Which local foods are in season?” and “All about organics” had been planned for opening-day visitors, but according to Gauthier, “it was so busy that [the classes] got moved to the side. At one point there were 600 people.” A trained green team was also present to explain the sustainability features of the store and give tours.
Classes instructed by chefs and authors are offered two to three times per week throughout the year. The cost is reduced for members.
Lolla Mohammed Nur (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a student at the University of Minnesota and an intern at the TC Daily Planet.
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