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New grocer a natural for Cook Street Village

Mother Nature's a dream for local ownership

There was never any question where Mother Nature's Market and Deli was going to open. In fact, when the small group banded together to open a natural, organic food store, the only location that made any sense was Cook Street Village.

Earlier this month, it became a reality.

The newest addition to the village mix is tucked into just over 5,000 square feet of commercial space at 240 Cook St., on the ground floor of Essencia Verde, the mixed commercial-residential building at the corner of Cook and Sutlej streets.

The market's exterior is subtle and blends into the new building and the Village's quaint surroundings. And that says a lot about the store.

According to Craig Hermanson, one of the owners and store manager, part of the philosophy behind Mother Nature's is building a community and becoming part of the mosaic of the area rather than establishing itself as a competitor.

"We tried to adjust our product mix so there wouldn't be much impact on existing vendors," he said, noting there is some overlap with the small Lifestyle Markets up the street, but only a tiny overlap with Oxford Foods' product mix, and no competition with the area's butcher.

"For our part, we wanted to be by a conventional grocery store. Our product overlap is maybe five per cent, so if we are close it acts as a draw and we are a draw for them as well. There will be a lot of people who still want conventional products," he said.

But Cook Street was much more than a convenient spot to set up near an established conventional grocer.

"It's perfect for this kind of place. I might be worried [about opening an independent natural grocer] if we were somewhere else in town, but so many people here are health-minded and looking for these types of products that we are not worried about it," he said.

Hermanson admits the ownership group - made up of Huguette Barbot, Brenda Tobin, Mike Scholtens and Klaus Allerdissen - is still a little nervous about the daunting challenge of striking out on its own, but he suggests excitement is the more powerful emotion right now.

"[Being in charge] feels good but it was a huge amount of work. We anticipated that but it went way beyond what we expected," Hermanson said.

Hermanson, who spent 20 years with Save On Foods before joining Planet Organic and meeting Barbot and Scholtens - Tobin was previously restaurant manager at the James Bay Inn - said the ownership group are "just local ordinary people who don't have a huge amount of money." So they did as much of the construction and leaseimprovement work on the space by themselves as they could.

The group managed to design and plan the store, do the flooring, painting, a variety of construction projects and sourcing equipment - gently used whenever possible to lessen the environmental impact - as they led up to opening day, Aug. 9. "There's a great sense of pride and accomplishment in getting this done," Hermanson said.

He notes the community has already started to respond.

"During construction, we actually had a lot of interaction with residents," he said, noting they kept the doors open and didn't paper the windows while they remodelled the space. "Locals were always poking their heads in and we'd take them on tours."

What they would see now is a store that looks much like any small grocery store.

"The philosophy was to provide a store that mirrors a conventional grocery store but is all natural and local, our focus is to bring in as much local stuff as we can," said Hermanson, noting they already have more than 200 different suppliers, some of them small home-based producers and farmers.

"For us its all about community, sustainability and healthy products and supporting local vendors and local farmers."

The deli has become a busy spot in the store despite a limited menu as the store gets up to speed, but there is promise of adding new items in the near future.

The same is true of employees. They currently have 30 but that is expected to grow to 50.

The store is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. until 9 p.m.