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Space-challenged Ashland Co-op eyes old Safeway site

Driven by a pressing need for space, both in its grocery aisles and out in the parking lot, the Ashland Community Food Cooperative is looking at the soon-to-be-vacated old Safeway building, more recently the Haggen grocery, as the place it can breathe free and grow.

The “Co-op” built its present structure, between Pioneer and First Streets, two decades ago, but is now doing three times the business it did what that opened, said Co-op General Manager Emile Amarotico. No one foresaw its success and rapid growth, he adds.

The giant market spot on Siskiyou Boulevard at Sherman Street is being vacated by Haggen Food in late November, after it failed amid a takeover of many Safeways and Albertson’s, then went into Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

“We’re trying to figure out how to expand but the existing footprint is fast running out of space for it,” said Amarotico, “There’s nowhere to expand. Umpqua Bank (on the west) is not interested in selling. We’re interested in the (Safeway) real estate and the board and I are monitoring it to see if it’s available for lease or buy.”

The modern Co-op has a series of issues, he notes. Parking is virtually non-existent most hours, with shoppers idling in cars, waiting for a spot to open. While checkers are efficient, the store needs more lanes, so as to reduce waiting. The field of organic and “conscious” food has new products all the time but there is no place to show them, he adds.

The Safeway building boasts a central location, next to downtown, on the main drag, while the Co-op is tucked among small homes and narrow streets. However, he says, many customers find that charming.

Word of the possible new home has raced through the community, with many “owners” (members) emailing and leaving suggestion notes “with a lot of enthusiasm and excitement because we might solve our parking issues.”

The Co-op owns its present building free and clear, he says, giving it lots of leverage to buy the larger space.

“What’s the Co-op going to look like in 20 years if we don’t do something?” Amarotico said.

John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at jdarling@jeffnet.org.