Community Mercantile Inc., a member-owned grocery cooperative, is hanging its hopes for moving to larger, more visible location on a $250,000 membership drive.
Amy Fields, general manager, said this morning that co-op officials have signed an agreement to lease the 10,000-square-foot building at 901 Miss., which currently is occupied by The Power Plant, a night club.
Fields said that if enough money can be raised by next month to pay for remodeling the building into a retail grocery store, the co-op would abandon its 2,600-square-foot store at 700 Maine.
The co-op would take possession of the 901 Miss. building in September and continue doing business from its current location until the new store opened in December or January, she said.
EXPANSION OF the inventory and services offered through the co-op would result in the hiring of additional employees, Fields said. The co-op currently employs 22 people and, based on comparisons with other, similar co-ops that have expanded, probably would add 60 to 70 employees.
In addition to the relocation of Community Merchantile's retail grocery operations, the move also would transplant three other local businesses and affiliated organizations.
Gary Kroeger, owner of Kroeger Country Meats, said today that he will close his store at 15th and Kasold on Saturday and plans to reopen it inside the new Community Mercantile store.
Kroeger, who expects to lease 400 to 600 square feet inside the new co-op store, said he'll expand his inventory of organically raised meat at the new location to conform to the preference of many co-op members for natural foods.
THE AMAZING Grains Society, a women's bread-baking collective that is located in a building adjacent to the co-op's current store, also will move into the new co-op store.
And the Free State Credit Union, which serves credit union members and employees of Reuter Organ Co., will follow the co-op to the new location.
Fields said co-op members had been actively seeking a new, larger location for about two years. Last year, the co-op's shareholders also took steps to facilitate the expansion by approving a restructuring of the co-op's business operations and voting to increase the price of a membership, or a voting share, to $75.
"We were really committed to staying (in central Lawrence) and finding parking downtown for a grocery store is really a challenge," Fields said.
OF SEVERAL sites considered, Fields said the 901 Miss. building was recommended by Strategic Decisions, a Pennsylvania conulting firm that conducted a marketing survey this spring. That location met co-op members' needs for a central location where the store could continue to serve the neighborhood in which it currently is located, she said.
Fields said the consultant also predicted the co-op's membership would grow significantly at the 901 Miss. location and recommended that retail meat offerings be expanded.
The co-op currently has about 600 shareholders and a mailing list of 1,500 names, she said.
Don Schmidt of DJ's of Hays Inc., which owns The Power Plant, said this morning that a decision had not been made whether to reopen the night club at another location. The Power Plant has been the target of neighbors' complaints, centering on the conduct of patrons outside the club.