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Harmony Natural Food Cooperative to expand in downtown Bemidji

Managers at Harmony Natural Food Cooperative have been discussing the need to expand or relocate for several years.

Now, the coop has signed a purchase agreement, contingent on securing financing, to buy the former TruStar Federal Credit Union building at 413 Third St. N.W. TruStar built a new facility and moved March 11 to 2313 TruStar Drive Northwest off Paul Bunyan Drive Northwest.

"We weren't even going to start looking for a building until August or September," Harmony Manager Greg Gasman said. "This one fell into our laps."

Gasman said the cost of the property - a half-block of land and the building that will provide 7.500 square feet of store space - is $370,000. The coop has set a member loan program goal of $450,000 for the purchase and remodeling of a bank into a supermarket. The member loan program will run from June 1 to July 1.

Gasman said the building has a long history of housing cooperatives. It was originally the home of Beltrami Electric Cooperative, then the Paul Bunyan Telephone Cooperative, followed by Headwaters Federal Credit Union and TruStar. TruStar will handle the financing for the sale, Gasman said.

"It's exciting," he said. "It's even got a garage for a loading dock instead of (loading) piece-by-piece out of a truck."

The site also has adequate parking for shoppers, something the current store at 117 Third St. N.W. lacks. The new store will have triple the retail space of the current store.

Plans for the new store include using "green" building materials, expanded deli and restaurant space with in-store seating, classroom and meeting spaces, a certified community kitchen and addition product offerings.

"It'll mainly be natural foods, organic, and we hope to carry more local (products)," Gasman said.

He said Harmony also will also extend the WIC offerings, such as brand-name cereals.

In addition, Harmony will partner with KAXE Northern Community Radio of Grand Rapids, Minn. The public radio station will establish KBXE 90.5 FM with a studio in the former TruStar building alongside Harmony.

Gasman said the closing for the sale with TruStar is scheduled for July 8 with construction beginning in October and grand opening in April 2011 in time for the coop's 34th anniversary.

Harmony was started as a buying club situated in a downtown gas station near the Markham Hotel. It was incorporated in 1977 and moved into a former church, which now houses the St. Philip's Catholic Church Clothing Depot. The store moved to the current downtown location in 1991.