Just Food Co-Op is embarking on a 2,000-square-foot expansion project after years of moving toward the goal and recent delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The groundbreaking took place Friday in a socially distanced outside format with a Facebook livestream.

As part of the expansion, the 4,000-square-foot sales floor will expand to 6,000 square feet and offer wider aisles, Kombucha bags, a large prepared foods section, and the ability to offer more local food. The deli is expected to add staff to support the expansion as part of an ongoing needs assessment.

“Just Food has been planning this expansion for many years, through several general managers, and it almost seems fitting that in the middle of a literal pandemic, this expansion project will take place,” said Marketing and Communications Director Stephanie Aman in a press release. “These last few months have reinforced the need for Just Food to remain viable in the downtown area and has shown the co-op the community’s desire for great food at affordable prices. They have been able to serve a diverse community, keep good food in people’s homes, doing so in an entirely too small space.”

Just Food leaders have said the expansion will accommodate for how younger people shop for groceries and food. Co-op owners have reportedly consistently asked for a bigger store, more product selection, wider aisles and consistent availability of local food.

“If there’s more sales, there’s an ability for us to give back more as well,” Aman noted.

Sherri Meyers, Just Food general manager, said she is “so thankful for the team of dedicated employees that have worked through this pandemic, and this is the perfect team to lead us through this long-awaited expansion.”

Nearly $500,000 of the $2.5 million project cost was raised from owners and investments. The remaining funding is being covered by a loan.

On Monday, the owners of the Just Food building, Northfield Development Co., presented a large check for the project and in lieu of the community work and outreach the co-op has undertaken over the years. Some of the local work the co-op has undertaken include providing food for teenagers in need through Northfield Union of Youth and helping the Community Action Center Food Shelf.

Ribbon-cutting is tentatively scheduled for April 2021.

Pandemic poses changes for Just Food

Aman said while much of the co-op quickly improved in the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, the facility’s small deli wasn’t able to receive enough product to produce the heated food people were seeking.

“With an unreliable oven, a very tight workspace and aging coolers, the deli department was the department that suffered the greatest losses at the store during this pandemic,” she said.

Aman said although the beginning of the pandemic caused a surge in traffic, customer traffic has leveled off. She noted people are seemingly coming into the store less often but are making larger purchases. Just Food offers curbside groceries and, as of last week, was finishing an online site where, if people want to shop, they can place an order to pick up from their vehicles.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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