Fire has destroyed the Zup’s grocery store in Cook, Minn., a St. Louis County institution and part of a family-owned chain that has served small towns north and west of Duluth for more than 100 years.
The business caught fire after closing Monday and burned through the night while fire crews from miles around battled the flames in frigid weather.
The building, which stood on the main road through town, is a total loss, authorities said, leaving residents of Cook and surrounding communities without a nearby grocery store.
State Rep. Rob Ecklund, whose district includes the city of about 570 residents, said, “I am so sorry for the residents of Cook. What a devastating loss for the community. Thankfully, there were no injuries.”
Fire officials are investigating the cause of the blaze, which started toward the back of the building and drew personnel from fire departments in Virginia, Orr, Embarrass and elsewhere.
As temperatures fell through the night, the nearby McDonald’s remained open to allow firefighters to warm up.
Jim Zupancich, whose family has been in the grocery business since 1916, said Cook is a “great community and a great town, and by golly, we’re going to look at rebuilding. At least we’re pretty sure.”
The news brought an outpouring of sympathy and memories from Minnesotans who vacationed at Lake Vermilion and other nearby destinations.
Lauren Eggert of Orono, who has spent summers in the area since she was a child, said: “I can’t imagine a summer vacation without a stop at Zup’s in Cook. This store has been a traditional stop every year for me since I was 8 when visiting Lake Vermilion. They had the best jerky in the world that the other Zup’s stores can’t replicate.”
Craig Cooper of Davenport, Iowa, said Zup’s was part of his family’s tradition Up North for generations.
“The loss of the grocery store in Cook will have an impact not only on the community — the closest full-service store would probably be in Virginia [more than] 20 miles away — but on the thousands of vacationers who rely on the store,” Cooper said. “I think my wife personally kept the bottom line healthy when we spent weeks at Lake Vermilion.”
The Cook ambulance service noted on Facebook that Zup’s was more than a grocery store; it was also a civic institution.
“You have always been there for the community with your generous donations and great service,” the posting read. “I speak for so many in saying we want and need you to rebuild bigger, stronger, and better than ever.”
Zup’s became the only remaining grocery store in Cook after fire overwhelmed an IGA in 2003.
The first Zup’s Food Market opened in Ely during World War I, when John Zupancich bought the original store. For decades, the store has been known for its homemade sausage.
Five more Zup’s eventually opened, in Babbitt, Aurora, Tower, Silver Bay and Cook. The Zup’s in Aurora closed in 2016 after 40 years, a victim of lagging sales and rising costs. The Babbitt store caught fire in 2011 and was “bulldozed over and rebuilt,” Jim Zupancich said, adding that the cause of that blaze has never been determined.
The stores have always been in the family, with management now in the hands of Zupancich’s great-grandsons.
Jim Zupancich, who works out of the flagship store in Ely, said the Zup’s in Cook has been in business for more than 20 years. He added: “We do OK there. It’s a living. We’ll get back on our feet.”