It’s been two years since Spartan Nash, the company that owned Econo Foods, closed the store in Norwood Young America, and the privately owned building has recently been purchased by a manufacturing company. However, this does not mean the search for a grocery store is over. In fact, it’s far from.

Since the closure, NYA city staff and members of the West Carver Food Retail Committee (FRC) have been hard at work to find a solution and will continue until they reach their goal of another grocer in NYA.

As part of this process, the FRC, city staff, and Carver County Public Health officials held a meeting on Sept. 22 called “Let’s Talk Food.” The meeting gave residents the chance to engage with these groups and hear about their progress.

“It was nice to see people interested and trusting enough to talk about their thoughts,” said Kaarin Foede, volunteer with the FRC. “There have been many rumors circulating wildly, and we were hoping to correct some of them through this meeting.”

As part of this discussion, residents got the chance to talk about what they wanted to see out of a grocery store in the community. Basic staples were of course a must - meaning dairy, produce, and meat. A few residents also expressed interest in other features, such as a coffee shop, deli counter, meat counter, and wellness section. This is all in line with the survey the FRC conducted earlier in the year.

The discussion and survey also revealed that before the closure, most residents purchased food at Econo Foods. Sometimes they’d venture out to other stores for a specific product, but the local grocer was the most frequent shopping site for groceries. The location also helped with convenience - most responses showed that residents shopped at least once per week if not more since the grocer was close by. Now, the most popular spot for NYA shoppers is Mackenthun’s in Waconia, with Kwik Trip, Coborn’s, and Family Dollar also listed as destinations for grocery shopping.

This kind of discussion has been planned for over a year by the city and public health, though the pandemic got in the way. When different rumors began to spread among residents and the FRC caught wind of them, they contacted the parties involved to see if the meeting could happen sooner rather than later.

Foede spoke about a few of these rumors for the sake of clarity.

It was true, for example, that there was a grocer interested in the building’s location. However, the pandemic put a permanent halt to the project. This isn’t stopping the efforts of the city and FRC, though, and neither is the sale of the building.

In fact, there are a few next steps to take. As part of the initial plan, a Commercial Market Study took place. This was conducted before the tunnel under Highway 212 was constructed as well as before confirmation of the expansion of the highway to four lanes. The study also showed that NYA wouldn’t need a huge store - a total of 13,000 square feet would work, it would just be an investment.

A new study isn’t the only option, either. The FRC in particular is reaching out to other cities to hear how they handled their own grocery stores closing.

“We’re finding those communities that have faced what Norwood Young America has, and understand what they did in response,” said Foede. “COVID has slowed us down a little bit for these meetings, but they are still taking place.”

Understanding the success of other cities is extremely important, especially if those cities are roughly the same size as NYA. Talking to the cities wouldn’t be the only factor, either, as the FRC is also planning to chat with any grocers that have had success in those cities. Of course, it’s a challenge with the ongoing pandemic, but things are continuing to move forward.

Speaking of COVID-19, it’s no secret the lack of delivery drivers and supply chain disruptions are a major issue for many aspects of life, including grocery stores. Overcoming that issue is also being taken into account, alongside location, size, and amenities. All in all, while work has been forced to slow down, many parties are continuing to find a solution for a grocer in NYA.

“A lot of people were worried that with the old building being sold, a grocery store wasn’t coming,” said Foede. “That’s just untrue.”

The FRC and city will continue their efforts, and will continue to communicate with the community. For more information, be sure to keep an eye on the West Carver Food Retail Committee Facebook page, as well as the City of NYA page.

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