Westminster pushes local grocery store for September opening

Posted 6/30/17

The clock is ticking for a new grocery store to cash in on financial incentives from the city.

Vern Tharp, president of Local Foods Campus, Inc., said it’s an aggressive schedule to be open in September, but is confident it can happen.

The …

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Westminster pushes local grocery store for September opening


The clock is ticking for a new grocery store to cash in on financial incentives from the city.

Vern Tharp, president of Local Foods Campus, Inc., said it’s an aggressive schedule to be open in September, but is confident it can happen.

The Westminster City Council approved a 90-day extension June 26 for a grant and sales tax rebate to kick-start the grocery store that promises locally sourced food in a year-round, farmers market style store.

The city started discussions with Local Foods Campus in the fall of 2015 then offered incentives in spring of 2016, according to John Hall, economic development director for the city.

The incentives included a $150,000 grant to the owner of the building — the former Albertson’s store at 72nd Avenue and Sheridan Boulevard — for interior improvements like floor grinding and painting.

“Just some of the things you would think of to get space ready for a user,” Hall said.

The incentives also included a rebate of 70 percent of sales tax collected during a five-year period up to $953,000. It’s a way to promote development on fallow piece of Westminstero real estate.

“The way we look at it is that’s a space that’s been vacant for eight years now, it’s not otherwise generating revenue,” Hall said.

So, he said, some revenue is better than none.

“We see a sales tax shareback — in this case — not only further economic development objectives, but obviously some broader objectives related to providing healthy food and those kind of things,” Hall said.

Renewing the offer

But the grant and sales tax rebate offer was set to expire June 30 this year, so the council’s June 26 action extended that offer another 90 days. Hall said there is usually a benchmark like a certificate of occupancy to initiate the incentives, but in this case it was actual sales commencing.

“I wouldn’t say that’s it’s common for us to extend agreements, but I wouldn’t say that it’s uncommon either,” Hall said, “Especially in a market where people are having trouble finding contractors and subcontractors and getting them scheduled — meeting deadlines can be a challenge.”

The concept of the grocery store is to sell locally and regionally sourced produce and products.

Tharp said the goal is to have 70 percent of the approximately 4,000 food and non-food items be grown in Colorado or made by a local producer.

Connecting point

In the 29,000 square feet of the gutted out version of the former Albertson’s store, next to Planet Fitness on 72nd Avenue, Tharp has shelves of samples of locally made products like Zuberfizz soda made in Durango, Rocky Mountain Salsa jarred in Louisville and Third Street tea also bottled in Louisville. These are just samples Tharp is considering to sell in the store.

“Oh, there’s ketchup! I was wondering if anyone made ketchup,” Tharp said as he picked through a bag of samples he hadn’t seen yet. “Woo-hoo!”

Tharp held up a jar of Denver-based MM Colorado brand applesauce to explain the concept of the store.

“Normally, Colorado apples are seasonal,” Tharp said. “You make applesauce out of them, put them in a jar — shelf life of a year. With this kind of packaging, we can eat local foods year round.”

In the growing and harvest seasons, local farmers will be invited to sell at stands in the store — like a typical farmers market.

“We are a connector point between hundreds of small family farmers across the state and hundreds of small food producers directly to our urban consumer,” Tharp said.

And in the off seasons, consumers can find the jarred and canned version of local products, like the applesauce.

Local Foods Campus is working with several local distributors and producers like LoCo Food Distribution, Colorado Food Showroom and Grower’s Organic to bring all these products to one place.

“It’s that distribution that’s at the heart of this thing,” Tharp said.

He sees Local Food Campus as the start of a trend.

“In this time now where Amazon just bought Whole Foods, this whole connectivity piece with food producers and food consumers is evolving, we think local is going to play a bigger role as time moves forward,” Tharp said. “We think local is the new organic.”

Mayor Herb Atchison called the concept appealing and said extending the financial incentives was at no cost to the city and said this store would be a good addition to the community.

“It offers fresh vegetables — hopefully — at a reasonable price,” Atchison said.

Hall said this was a unique project.

“We believe it addresses a niche in the city that hasn’t been fully explored yet as related to the provision of local foods and sort of the farm-to-table movement,” Hall said. “So it offers an opportunity for us to provide a unique opportunity and offering for our citizens by helping the Local Foods Campus get started and implement their plan.”

Hall also said this store would be a good anchor for that shopping center.

This has been years in the making. Local Food Campus, Inc. was formed in November of 2014.

“The key thing was capital,” Tharp said.

He said improvements to the store — from the facade outside through gutting the interior — cost around $500,000. And he called the sales tax rebate “fundamental.”

“That’s probably our profit margin,” Tharp said.

He said many grocery stores have a 2 to 4 percent profit margin. He said the sales tax rebate could be a matter of survival to bring the business to a break even point if it struggles the first few years.

However, Tharp sees potential for success. He said 35,000 people drive by that shopping center daily and about 133,000 people are within a three mile radius. He also sees the innovation and novelty of the store to bring people from farther away.

“We expect to attract a lot of foodies,” Tharp said.

Local Foods Campus, Westminster Colorado, Kevin M. Smith


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