EYOTA, Minn. – Al Schumann, a native son of this waypoint midway between St. Charles and Rochester, stepped up 11 years ago at the age of 84 and opened the Eyota Market because he thought his hometown needed its own grocery.
After the former farmer, developer, mayor and state representative died in 2013, the 14,400-square-foot market rolled into his estate while his survivors quietly looked in vain for a buyer. Now, the family wants the 2,000-plus residents of Eyota to help keep the store going.
More than 120 people crammed into the Eyota American Legion hall last week to discuss ways to keep the market open, said Mayor Tyrel Clark.
“The citizens of Eyota didn’t necessarily know that it was for sale,” Clark said. “What we’re doing now is saying, ‘Citizens of Eyota, this is for sale and you might have to support it.’ ”
Dozens of community volunteers have since signed up to help find new ownership. They’re exploring three models: Selling to an entrepreneur, pulling together an investment group, or setting up a community cooperative.
The city and its economic development association are facilitating the work, Clark said, by making sure the citizens group and the owners have access to government assistance, such as gap financing and grants.
“The community seems to be awake and engaged,” Clark said. “The key is getting the dollars and feet into the store. We need them to help us by buying local.”
Vicki Arendt, the youngest of Schumann’s six children, has been helping run the market, but she said the arrangement can’t go on forever.
“Estates are supposed to be closed after a year, and it’s been 4 ½,” Arendt said.
She said the store needs more support from the 5,200-plus people who live within a 5-mile radius if it’s going to thrive.
While the Eyota Market fills a niche, she said many of the people who live here work in nearby Rochester and do their shopping at larger grocery stores on their way home from work.
“It’s never been easy, let’s put it that way, for the last 11 years,” Arendt said. “If people listened to that TV advertisement that says, ‘Shift 10 percent of your purchases to buy local,’ we’d be sitting pretty.”
Cathy Enerson, a community and business development specialist who works under contract for Eyota, said it’s much easier to hang onto a grocery store than it is to start one. She noted that the store has some strengths, including gas pumps and a good location just north of Interstate 90 on Hwy 42. The building is probably oversized, she said, so there’s an opportunity to lease part of it, positing that it could support a hardware store, a landscaping business, a gym or fitness center.
A food cooperative has appeal to many residents because that model is responsive to its members’ tastes. Enerson noted that Eyota already has experience with co-ops because it’s powered by the People’s Electric Cooperative.
News that the Schumann family was considering a sale of the market concerns its customers.
“I usually come to lunch here every day,” Randy Bidsler said last week as he grabbed a quick bite from the deli counter. He said losing the market would be a big loss. “You don’t want to have to run to Rochester or another town to get your groceries,” Bidsler said.
Jay Jensen, who works for St. Joseph Equipment, said he’s among about 20 co-workers who eat at the market every day. “There’s not a lot of other places nearby for a quick lunch,” he said.
That kind of talk pleases deli manager Bonita Mundt.
“I’m a good cook. They all like me,” she said. “Hey — all my meals are $5.50!”