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Big-box supermarkets have yet to land in Farmington, all the more reason city officials say they're pleased that the town's only grocery store, which had seen its business decline, has recently undergone a makeover.
"People were going to Lakeville, they were going to Apple Valley," said Farmington Mayor Todd Larson. "They quit coming to town to buy groceries, they quit coming to town to eat and buy gas, and they quit coming to town for everything else."
Larson said he's hopeful that the new store, which officially opened June 26, will lure shoppers back. Local merchants that could benefit include Farmington's municipal liquor store, whose profitability is the lowest in the metro area, according to the state auditor's most recent annual report. Apple Valley and Lakeville ranked near the top.
"Having a successful grocery store will definitely help. The two go hand in hand," Larson said.
The new grocery store, called Family Fresh Market, is clearly aimed at consumers' growing interest in buying local. The store's hometown vibe includes gigantic photos from Farmington's past on the walls, and aisles named after city streets.
The store's full-service format and brand-name merchandise are a big change from the old store, called Savers Choice, which focused on deep discounts and generic goods. Both old and new stores are owned and operated by Nash Finch Co., which made the switchover less than a year after opening Savers Choice. Representatives of the Edina-based supermarket company, which also has Family Fresh Markets in Hudson, River Falls and New Richmond, Wis., declined to comment.
Larson said the experience reinforced how much importance people place on having a supermarket in their own community.
"After the Savers Choice came in, we had people running to us, saying, 'please get us another grocery store,'" he said.
Farmington resident Heidi Brenneman said she sometimes ducked into the old Savers Choice to look for deals but rarely bought anything. "I will absolutely come back," she said at the end of a recent trip to the new store, packing a large bag and a gallon of milk into her car.
Brenneman said she and her husband had started going to Lakeville, Apple Valley or Rosemount for groceries and other shopping in recent months.
"I felt kind of bad because we would say, 'I'm going into town. Do you need anything?' But it wasn't really our town."
Tony Weng, whose restaurant, Weng's Kitchen, shares the parking lot with the supermarket, said he's already noticed more walk-in customers. Weng said his strong catering business helped support his restaurant when the former supermarket wasn't drawing shoppers.
"Now you see people come in here, put in a take-out order, then come back to pick up it up after they're done buying groceries," he said. "They're getting back into a routine."
"If a community doesn't have a grocery store, there's a big void," said Stephen Dombrovski, president of St. Paul-based Suntide Commercial Realty. About eight years ago, Suntide oversaw a redevelopment project that brought a supermarket to Prior Lake, whose only grocery store had closed after the owners left to operate a Cub in Savage.
The new Prior Lake store, called Village Market, went into a renovated mall that subsequently attracted a liquor store, cycle shop, travel agent and coffee shop as tenants, he said. Dombrovski said it's doubtful some would have moved there without the supermarket as an anchor. "The grocery store needed to be there as the driving force. It's the trip generator that supports the additional businesses," he said.
In Victoria, a blighted commercial area got a lift about three years ago when the town got its first grocery store, said Mayor Mary Hershberger Thun. Before two local businessmen opened their Fresh Seasons Market, Victoria residents typically drove to supermarkets in Chaska, Chanhassen or Waconia, she said. The store was financed in part by a state grant and tax-increment financing from the city.
"People want to support their local trade areas," Thun said. The grocery store drew traffic to nearby merchants, like the town florist, and prompted some to relocate to get closer. The trade area near the grocery store also added some new retailers, including an interior design shop, a liquor store and a dry cleaners, she said.
The Victoria grocery store opened three years after the first Fresh Seasons opened in the Glen Lake neighborhood of Minnetonka. Dale Riley, a partner in both stores, said the Minnetonka market has performed well, even though it is surrounded by competitors, including Cub, Lunds and Kowalski's. But none are closer than three miles.
Riley said he's gotten good feedback from Glen Lake area residents and from neighboring merchants such as a barber and a coffee shop that have said the grocery store has given their businesses a boost.
A market study of Farmington commissioned by the city concluded that eventually it could support two supermarkets. Larson said developers have said the city, whose population now is about 22,000, needs more people in the southern part of town.
"We're on their radar," he said.
Susan Feyder • 952-746-3282