Articles began to appear in the Beloit Daily News in early 2007 about a new grocery store. Usually, this would not come as big news to a city but this grocery is different. With the growing trend of summer farmer’s markets, local growers have found a new niche to sell to, but only for part of the year. Rich Horbaczewski and Jackie Gennett of Grass Is Greener Gardens saw the need for this to be remedied. In mid-May 2008, in the old Woolworth’s store in Downtown Beloit, Horbaczewski and Gennett are opening a locally supported grocery expecting to carry a range of meats, produce and other products [Gennett].
In 2007 they partnered with local farmers to sell more products at Chicago farmer’s markets. After finding themselves sold out of various products when visiting these farmer’s markets, they created a new, local Community Supported Agriculture, a CSA, which offers consumers a share in local, periodic deliveries of produce [Gennett, “Our”]. For the last two years Horbaczewski and Gennett have been working to find a place for a long-term grocery. In our email correspondence with Grass Is Greener Gardens, they wrote: “One of our greatest challenges as farmers has been the logistics of not just growing food, but selling it to consumers. Hard to do everything, so we decided to focus our farm production very specifically and expand into the sales of other producer product” [Gennett]. When Beloit issued a Request for Proposal in late 2007, they “finally connected with Beloit”, a city that has “supported the project with overwhelming enthusiasm!”[Gennett].
The planned grocery, which is still unnamed, will be filling the vacant space of the old Woolworth’s on Beloit’s State Street in the Downtown. Kathleen Braatz, executive director of the Downtown Beloit Association was a key player in starting this project. In an article from the Beloit Daily News dated 4 March 2008, Braatz said, “Our whole point in this is that we really wanted to seek out the highest use for this building because it's so uniquely located in the heart of downtown. We want to have this building and its use be a catalyst for retail in downtown, a viable business for itself and also for other businesses to benefit from whatever is situated there. It meets all of those objectives” [Brown, “City”]. With support of the city behind them, Horbaczewski and Gennett began work on the site.
*from the Beloit Daily News
The empty store has been owned by the City of Beloit since 2003 and nearly $675,000 has gone into upkeep of the building [Brown, “City”]. Grass Is Greener Gardens signed a 6-year lease on building and hopes to purchase the building within 30 months of opening. [Brown, “City”]. Unlike a cooperative store, Horbaczewski and Gennett will privately own and operate the grocery along with a team of employees rather than the suppliers because “producers/farmers would prefer to be doing what they're doing” [Gennett]. They are also striving to renovate the site in an eco-friendly way. “Our approach in the construction of the project is to add as little as possible and reuse the existing features of the interior. For example, brick and mason walls will be cleaned and exposed, rather than constructing drywall walls. Old plaster walls are being cleaned and finished in a rustic, industrial manner. Floors will be the existing cement. All though there are certain areas where we have to build structure to meet building requirements, we are keeping the interior as simple as we possibly can” [Gennett]. Equipment previously owned will be mixed with fixtures bought from Habitat for Humanity’s ReStore, a discount warehouse using local surplus materials [Habitat ReStores].
In the same sustainable vein they will be encouraging the re-use of bags, using washable dishes for prepared foods [Gennett]. Most importantly, though, is the focus on local and regional sources of products with few exceptions, such as fair trade coffee [Gennett]. The final suppliers list is still in the making but the general product list is as follows: Meat/Deli, Dairy/Cheese, Beer/Wine, Beverages, Bulk Foods, Bakery, Snacks, Health Products, Cooking Products, Packaged Foods, Candy, Gifts, Pet Products, Plant/Cut Flowers and Prepared Foods for lunch and dinner [Gennett].
There was some early speculation about the site being too large for a local grocery and taking away from the summer farmer’s market [Adams]. Horbaczewski and Gennett hope that they utilize the space by having “some cooking demonstrations, wine tastings and events that connect consumers to their food”. And because many of the suppliers for the grocery are regulars at the Beloit Farmers’ Market, “we’ll have things that market vendors don’t offer… We also think it will give market vendors an additional outlet for their products. Not everyone can make it to the Saturday market, so we hope to draw on consumers that want the flexibility of shopping on more than one day a week” [Gennett, Brown, “City”]. The City of Beloit is focusing its energy on revitalizing the City Center, Downtown and Riverside areas and with the addition of this new grocery “Downtown can really become a one-stop-shop for the conscious consumer!” [Adams, Gennett, Beloit Report]
Grass Is Greener Gardens is now working on getting the word out. “We need a clear message that states our mission, and that mission needs to tie to what the consumer wants and needs out of a store like this… What we know that what we need to be successful in ongoing, regular, consumer involvement and support. We don't want the store to become a novelty or once a year destination, we need it to be a way of life, so we're working on that message and building the store in a way that will support the message” [Gennett]. Until the grocery opens in mid-May, they are working on spreading the word. “The most important principle to which we will adhere is to know the source of the product. No mystery food. No high fructose corn syrup. No factory farmed meats. Food decisions are much more easily made when you know where it comes from! This is not a health food store. It’s a store filled with products you can trust” [Gennet “This”].
Adams, Jeff. "A Vision for the City Center." Beloit 2020. Beloit 2020, Beloit, WI. 5 Feb. 2008.
Beloit Report 29 February 2008. City of Beloit. Beloit, WI: City of Beloit, 2008. 19 Mar. 2008 <*http://www.ci.beloit.wi.us/index.asp?Type=B_BASIC&SEC=%7B787D633D-CCAA-4F74-8638-0A1B540BFB05%7D*>.
Brown, Krista. "City OKs Grocery Deal." Beloit Daily News 4 Mar. 2008. 11 Mar. 2008 <*http://www.beloitdailynews.com/articles/2008/03/04/news/news03.txt*>.
Brown, Krista. "Grocery Would Feature Local Produce." Beloit Daily News 10 Jan. 2008. 11 Mar. 2008 <*http://www.beloitdailynews.com/articles/2008/01/10/news/news01.txt*>.
Gennett, Jackie, and Rich Horbaczewski. "This is Our Farm Blog." Grass is Greener Gardens. 14 Mar. 2008 <*http://grassisgreenergardens.com/blog-j/2008/03/*>.
Gennett, Jackie, and Rich Horbaczewski. "Our CSA." Grass is Greener Gardens. Grass is Greener Gardens. 14 Mar. 2008 <*http://www.grassisgreenergardens.com/CSA.html*>.
Gennett, Jackie, and Rich Horbaczewski. Interview with Alex Catalan and Emily Quinn. 15 Mar. 2008. 14 Mar. 2008 <*www.grassisgreenergardens.com*>.