Medford Food Co-op postpones opening

Halt your grocery carts. The debut of Medford's long-awaited, community-owned market of local and organic food has been delayed again, this time for at least three months.

The Medford Food Co-op, owned by community members who also get a return on store profits, was expected to open in January in renovated space at 945 S. Riverside Ave., in south Medford. But building-permit delays and complications in transforming the building into a grocery store have extended the estimated length of construction from 45 days to between 90 and 100 days, said Emile Amarotico, co-op general manager.

The store is now projected to open in April, said Jim Sims, co-op president.

"Instead of hiring the management team in December, I'm waiting until we see light at the end of the tunnel," Amarotico said. "I've got a dream team that is in the wings and hopefully will still be interested and available when we hire."

Renovation plans were submitted to the city in late December. On Friday, the city's Building Safety Department asked Batzer Construction draftsman Bruce Anderson, who works under the supervision of architect Gary Caperna, to revise the building's drawings and include such missing elements as lighted exit signs and stormwater detention. (Correction: This paragraph has been revised to correct and clarify Anderson's role.)

Once the revisions are complete, it will likely take a few weeks for the city to review the plans.

The $250,000 in renovations are part of a lease agreement between Medford-based Batzer Construction, which owns the building, and co-op organizers.

Plans call for gutting the building — the former location of Rudolph's restaurant, Asante Health System offices and, most recently, a day-care center called Stepping Stone Academy — and creating one high-ceilinged floor out of the building's two stories. The building also must be outfitted with appropriate electrical wiring for machinery, refrigerators and freezers.

While permits are pending, Amarotico has been talking with organic farmers who will provide the store's produce — when it opens.

"I spoke today with an organic beef producer about how we can get organic beef here," Amarotico said Friday. "They're a (co-op) sponsor; Cascade Organic Meats out of Klamath Falls."

Amarotico said Ashland Food Co-op has been an invaluable information source for the Medford store's start-up, even though the Medford store will likely draw some customers away from Ashland.

Co-ops allow member shoppers to share in the profits from sales in the grocery enterprise and to give input on what products should be sold, but non-members may also shop at the store.

Medford resident Stephanie Straus is one Ashland Food Co-op customer who likely will shift her shopping to the new Medford Co-op.

"It will be great to have a co-op in Medford rather than going to Ashland to buy organic produce," Straus said. "I'm looking forward to it."

"One of the principles of co-ops is to help each other to spread the co-op model and help each other succeed," Amarotico said. "Ashland has taken that to heart and has given us incredible support in terms of information."

Although the Medford store is taking longer than expected to get under way, Amarotico said organizers here are lucky to be able to open with a storefront.

When the Ashland co-op started about 40 years ago, it was just a buying club of "people who couldn't find what they were looking for and decided to buy large quantities and break them down into smaller portions."

"Now, Ashland is a model for co-ops," Amarotico said.

For more information, see www.medfordfoodcoop.com

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or e-mail pachen@mailtribune.com.


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