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Westridge revamps: Marketplace Foods becomes more efficient, geared to customers while opening space for national retailers

At left, Keith Johanneson, CEO of Johanneson’s Inc. poses with John Meyers, right, of Johanneson’s-owned Pace Development inside Marketplace Foods grocery located in northwest Bemidji. Marketplace, which is owned by Johanneson’s, has just completed an extensive redevelopment project . Zach Kayser | Bemidji Pioneer1 / 2
Construction workers Ryan Weegman, left, and Damon Drauden, right, fill in a floor opening Friday in what will become an Office Max later this year in the Westridge Shopping Center. Zach Kayser | Bemidji Pioneer2 / 2

BEMIDJI — Westridge Shopping Center is approaching the end of a multi-million dollar renovation project developers say has simultaneously made the Marketplace Foods grocery store more efficient, while freeing up space for new big-name national retailers to revitalize the building’s operations.

A brand new Sports Authority opened Sept. 27. John Meyers of Pace Development said Friday what was once the floral department of Marketplace will become home to cosmetics retailer Sally Beauty, opening about mid-December. Office Max will move from its current space into what was once home to the deli, also with a projected opening in December. Finally, a new TJ Maxx will take over the old Office Max space and will open next spring, Meyers said.

Although about 15,000 square feet of the Marketplace has been reallocated for the new stores, Keith Johanneson, president of the company that owns Marketplace, said there actually will be more products for sale in the redesigned store. An efficient layout — a grocery store leaner both in the sense of size and the food it carries — fits perfectly with what company planners saw in the opinions of their customers, Johanneson said.

"What people buy and how they shop has dramatically changed," Johanneson said. "They’re looking for more gluten-free, they’re looking for more organic, they’re looking for locally grown products, they’re looking for healthier foods."

Healthier foods are exactly what Marketplace has tried to give them, placing things like Minnesota-grown potatoes and other produce right by the entrance.

"We were actually able to include a new health foods store, a lot more variety in the produce department and a lot more variety in the perishable departments," Johanneson said.

Johanneson’s own son is an organic farmer and may also create some products for the store, he said.

Redesigning Marketplace for efficiency also gave developers the chance to make it environmentally friendly. The old store had "coffin cases" — open horizontal freezer displays whose efficiency Johanneson compared to leaving your refrigerator door open all night long. With the new Marketplace, all but one of the coffin cases are gone, replaced by vertical cabinet-style displays with LED lighting. Combined with new energy efficient overhead lighting for the whole store, the new displays help save space, electricity and the environment — not to mention a lot of money.

"Our electrical bills have gone down 55 percent from what they were two, three months ago," Johanneson said.

That tally was taken while construction was still going on inside the store, so the actual savings will likely be even more, Meyers added.

Efficiency aside, the Marketplace revamp gave Pace the space it needed to switch the lineup of retailers and attract some national names to Paul Bunyan Drive. The new Sports Authority had a grand opening planned for Oct. 5 which followed a soft opening on Sept. 27.

Although the store is part of nationwide chain, it already has strong ties to Bemidji. Nineteen of the store’s 20 employees hail from town.

Mick Peterson, a district manager for Sports Authority, said although typically stores in the chain put baseball equipment near the entrance, the merchandise layout of the new Bemidji location was switched up to cater to a certain pastime popular in the area.

"We’re going to lead with hockey," he said.

When the entire Westridge renovation is completed next year, Meyers said, it will have added 80-100 jobs to the local economy.

Not only is the Marketplace revamp the key to giving new life to the shopping center, Johanneson said, but it will also put the Bemidji store on the national stage.

"There’ll be people coming here from all over the industry coming in to look at what we’ve done," he said. "This will be an award-winning store in our industry."

A grand opening for the redesigned Marketplace is planned for about a month from now, Johanneson said.

Zach Kayser
Zach Kayser covers local government and city issues for the Pioneer. He previously worked for the Wadena Pioneer Journal, and is an alumni of the University of Minnesota, Morris. 
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