A new home for Linden Hills Co-op

After 34 years at the same intersection, the Linden Hills Co-op opened the doors on Sept. 23 to a new, larger store that staff expects to serve more customers and increase sales.

While the move is somber for some Linden Hills business owners and residents of walking distance, the new co-op will offer shoppers more options, including a fresh meat and seafood counter, a bigger deli, a beautiful classroom kitchen and generally more space for more products and more people.

“It’s really, really thrilling that it all came together and we’re able to move into this new spot,” said Kimberly Proffitt, the president of the co-op’s board of directors. “We’ve had such a wonderful reception from our members and the people in the neighborhood and the businesses.”

The opening of the new site, 3815 Sunnyside Ave., near the 44th & France intersection, comes a year after the co-op board decided to make the move. Since then, the co-op has raised $1.5 million through member loans, and another $2 million in financing from People’s Bank, North Country Development Fund and the City of Minneapolis.

Allie Mentzer, the co-op’s marketing and member services manager, said she expects a 15 to 20 percent increase in sales at the new location. She said France Avenue traffic draws in new shoppers. The co-op reported about $9 million in sales during the fiscal year ending June 30. The new space is 17,500 square feet, about 50 percent larger than the old site.

Crews began renovations on the old Almsted’s Sunnyside Market in February. The old co-op stayed open until Sept. 19, and employees worked long hours transporting and stocking the new place.

The new site will house all of the products from the Natural Homes store. It will also have four times more indoor seating for the lunch crowd, more gluten-free options, a bigger salad and soup selection, more baked goods and a bigger kitchen for prepared foods.

The new co-op is, however, leaving behind an aspect of the old site. The co-op board voted not to transport the $60,000, 54-panel solar energy system that was installed on the old site in 2007. The panel was funded through donations from members, local businesses and nonprofits.

Because of the co-op’s lease agreement at the old building, the solar panels are considered “fixtures” of the building, and therefore must stay with the building, according to a board resolution.

The resolution says that while the co-op could have negotiated to remove the panels, transportation alone would have cost $30,000 and more costs would have racked up while repairing the old roof and reinforcing the new roof.

Mentzer said the new co-op instead focuses on reducing energy consumption. The new site is built to LEED standards. It has 11 solar tubes used for lighting, a white roof to keep the building cool, LED lighting wherever possible, larger windows for natural light, 36 bike racks, salvaged wood signing and energy-efficient heating.

“Our hope is that the solar panels will continue to be used as an educational tool for the Linden Hills community,” Mentzer said.

Also left behind are dozens of Linden Hills businesses that have benefited from having a popular grocery store nearby.

Gregory Brassil’s Uniquely Yours Custom Designed Jewelry store has been near the intersection for 17 years. He said his business doesn’t get many customers from the co-op but, he understands the way it shaped the intersection’s identity.

“It has a large stamp here,” he said. “But once it’s gone then something else will come in and we’ll still be fine ourselves in the Linden Hills Business District.”

Mark Dwyer, president of the Linden Hills Business Association and owner of the Famous Dave’s site, said the 44th and France business node and the Upton Avenue business node should use this opportunity to market themselves together and improve the corridor between the two places.

Still, he said, owners are concerned about what will happen to the old co-op site.

“Something great will go in there,” he said. “Of course, we want it to happen sooner than later. If there’s a concern it’s just that we keep that gap [in time] as short as possible and we get a new, compelling business in there sooner rather than later.”

Dwyer said he has confidence in the site’s owner Dave Luger.

Luger, in a voicemail left when he was out of town, said he does not yet have a tenant lined up, but is searching.

“I would ideally like to bring in a restaurant/deli,” he said.

For the co-op, though, the new space provides more room to grow, now and in the future. It has a 15-year lease on its new building with an option to purchase it before it expires. Mentzer said that co-ops in the Twin Cities, despite national economic trends, continue to grow.

She said three Twin Cities co-ops — Linden Hills, Seward and Mississippi Market — have expanded in the past year, plus a new co-op, Harvest Moon, opened recently in Long Lake.

“In as much as we are so excited about the new store and we know it will be great, there is that little tinge of sadness that goes with it,” Proffitt said. “I think we all have some things we will miss about the store and the neighborhood. But we are really looking forward to all of the things in the new store.”