New Pioneer Co-Op members vote 'yes' to third store


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After being passed over on its plans for a new 20,000-square-foot downtown Iowa City in January, one Iowa City grocery store is moving forward with plans for a third location. And this time around, store officials will look beyond the tight geographic boundaries of the central business district and the city as a whole.

New Pioneer Co-Op, founded in Iowa City in 1971, launched its “Third Location Project” in May, and it has since held meetings in Iowa City, North Liberty, Marion, and Cedar Rapids to gather input and explore expansion options.

To date, two market studies have been completed regarding the company’s future endeavors. A first market study, conducted by an independent agency, identified the grocer’s current trade area — the area where the majority of its customers reside — between Iowa City, Coralville, North Liberty, Cedar Rapids, and Marion.

Of the Monday vote, which garnered 2,753 of the grocer’s more than 26,000 member votes, 2,514 — or 91 percent — voted in favor of an additional brick and mortar store. Just 239 voted down the proposal.

Jenifer Angerer, the New Pioneer marketing director, said the members who voted yes in the recent vote granted their approval for the expansion into a third store in the company’s trade area or the relocation of a new downtown Iowa City space, if a space becomes available.

However, the option for a new downtown store, she said, appears less and less appealing.

“We have spent so many years looking for a viable downtown Iowa City location, and the likelihood of that is slim — remote at best,” she said. “But we can’t rule that out.”

Angerer said the reasoning behind the third location is twofold. This fiscal year, the Iowa City and Coralville locations have taken in $11 million and $15 million in respective sales. And the now-reached capacity at both stores has began to cut into the company’s bottom line. The Coralville location opened in 2001 in response to growing demand at the Iowa City location.

“Our sales have not been able to grow; we’re landlocked there,” she said.

Nonetheless, Angerer said the Iowa City location, 22 S. Van Buren St., will remain in operations even if the decision is made not to relocate it.

Among the features being sought by the cooperative, include in-house deli seating, LEED certification, and between 8,000 and 20,000 square feet.

New Pioneer Board President Sarah Walz said although the cost of the yet-to-be-identified location remain preliminary, the end result will be a less-expensive option than a proposed 20,000-square-foot space in the Chauncey Gardens high-rise, proposed to be constructed at the intersection of College and Gilbert Streets. Once a location is finalized, she said, it would take the company between 18 and 24 months to put the store together and open it to the public.

Iowa City City Councilor Connie Champion said despite voting in favor of the Chauncey high-rise, the council still support the organic and natural-foods grocer.

“When I make a decision for the future of Iowa City, it isn’t against one business or for another one, it’s that I think this is what Iowa City needs,” she said. “… My future is 50 years from now, not next year.”

Iowa City assistant store manager Michael Gustaveson said he remains excited about the third location, despite the breadth of unknowns.

”I have no preference [on the location],” he said. “I know there are people north that would love to have us there in North Liberty and Cedar Rapids."

For new member Vanessa Fixmer-Oraiz, said that although she remains confused about why the new downtown Iowa City location never came to fruition at the College and Gilbert site, and the downtown location remains convenient to her, she said she is excited about the company’s future.

“I feel like probably the Cedar Rapids location is probably the best choice,” she said. “… I think that’s probably a logical step.”

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