The Kootenay Co-op hopes to move to the old Extra Foods site by 2015. Members gave their blessing to the plan this year.

Year in Review No. 8: Kootenay Co-op on the move

The Kootenay Country Store Cooperative found a new home this year, agreeing to buy the Extra Foods location.

Part of the Star’s look back at the top stories of 2012.

The Kootenay Country Store Cooperative found a new home this year, agreeing to buy the Extra Foods location at 708 Vernon Street after several years of discussions.

The co-op previously considered leasing the site, but decided buying was the better option.

“We were looking at spending upwards of $3 million just to get into that site and then paying very high rent,” said project manager Russell Precious. “When we looked at those numbers we realized we could afford our own building and that was our preference.”

The natural foods store has been in the 200 block of Baker Street for over 20 years after outgrowing several earlier locations and is once again pressed for space. They explored other options including the CPR lands, lower parking lot beside the rec complex, and expanding on the current site before opting for the Extra Foods location. The move will mean room to grow and their own parking lot.

At a special meeting, the membership overwhelmingly ratified the $3.5 million purchase, which required spending more of the co-op’s reserves than the board would otherwise be allowed to.

“I think it conveys a pretty high degree of trust in the board which I am very pleased with because I think we worked really hard to earn it,” co-op president Abra Brynne told the Star.

However, there were concerns about the loss of Extra Foods and its employees. The store would have closed regardless, according to parent company Loblaws.

“The reason for the closure is the lease agreement with the land owner expires at the end of May,” corporate affairs director Craig Ware said. “We are meeting with the union to discuss how we can best support these employees during this time of transition.”

Because it didn’t expect to move for a year or two, the co-op tried to negotiate a short-term lease to let Extra Foods keep operating for another six to 12 months, but the offer was declined, leaving 40 people out of work.

The co-op took possession June 1 and has since been looking at development options.

Plans for what’s been dubbed Nelson Commons could transform the east end of downtown: the existing building would be demolished and replaced with an 18,000 square foot grocery store — four times the size of the current co-op location — plus 30 to 40 residential units, other commercial space, and a public area.

They’ll have to work with a developer, and pre-sales will determine the project’s viability, but already about 100 people have expressed interest through an online survey. Inquiries have also been received about the commercial space along with suggestions for the civic space.

The Co-op has hosted several focus groups with members and met with community leaders.

“We’ve had a lot of support for our plan,” project manager Precious said. “That’s what’s given us the confidence to take the next step. We know the [housing] market’s not great, but think we have enough interest to make it work.”

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