Outpost Co-op Opens Third Milwaukee-Area Store

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Kinnickinnic Avenue runs a diagonal path through the Bay View neighborhood of south side Milwaukee, Wis. It is an urban trek through an older, established, working-class community that is fast becoming the hot new eclectic place to live affordably. This main street is home to a lively mix of independent retailers—and now, Outpost Natural Foods Cooperative.

Thursday, September 15, 2005, marked the day the doors opened to the public for this third store of the bustling 35-year-old co-op. Two years prior, Kohl’s food stores had vacated the 24,000-square-foot location, leaving the locals without a grocery store. At about the same time, Pam Mehnert, general manager of Outpost, was scouting around for real estate, with plans to build a third location. Outpost owners were most vocal about their desire for a store in Bay View—approximately 8 percent of them live in this renaissance community bordering Lake Michigan.

In December 2004, Outpost scooped up the entire lease on the Kinnickinnic Avenue prime real estate and proceeded to rebuild a 7,500-square-foot retail, full-service natural foods store. Another 11,000 square feet of space has been dedicated to back stock and a state-of-the-art commissary. Currently, about 5,000 square feet of space is unused while Outpost waits to see if it will utilize the area for more retail or service needs or sublease it to another business.

As with other Outpost locations, the Bay View store was renovated utilizing green building techniques and materials. Renovation took approximately seven and a half months. MSI General, Inc. fulfilled the design/build criteria. Solterra Studios, Inc. created the stimulating eco-friendly interior design schematic including healthy paints and linoleum flooring, recycled-content finishes such as rubber flooring, counter tops and carpeting, and wheat-board fixtures. Ample parking is available in the recently repaved lot, and rain gardens, including native plantings and trees, are being developed for the unusable areas.

Building improvements totaled $1.5 million, and store equipment added $840,000 in costs. Total cost for the project was $2.6 million. Financing included a $1.3 million commercial loan, $55,000 in city grants, $400,000 from city development programs, and $350,000 in owner loans.

The Bay View store has a few unique features. The Fork In The Road Café, a new concept for Outpost, offers made-to-order menu items for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Café seating completes the package. Added to the store’s retail configuration is a community room used for workshops and staff meetings and available to the community for lease. It comfortably seats up to 30 people and has a moveable cook-top island for chef demos. Responding to neighborhood needs, the store offers shoppers “clean” crossover-type products bearing familiar grocery store brands.

In addition to the Bay View store’s new product features, the Brewery Credit Union subleases 500 square feet of store space. Operating since 1934, its original customers were Milwaukee’s brewery workers. As fate would have it, the credit union is located next to the beer and wine department.

Commissary production currently includes bakery, hummus, and some deli salads for all store locations. Plans to ramp up production include more items for distribution to Outpost’s other two store locations. The commissary also serves as the distribution hub for all bulk products and Outpost’s catering program. Projected catering sales for 2006 are $150,000.

Since opening the third store, Outpost ownership has increased by over 1,100 to a total of 12,100 members. About 4,700 people shop the new location on a weekly basis. Average weekly sales are $102,000, putting total sales of three Outpost stores at $500,000 per week. Employing a staff of 76, Bay View store sales for 2006 are estimated at $5.2 million.

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Margaret Bert is director of communications for Outpost Natural Foods ([email protected]).

See other articles from this issue: #122 January - February - 2006