By Cindy Hadish
CEDAR RAPIDS—Three east-side grocery stores could open their doors within months of each other, but store managers insist it’s not a race to see who can finish first.
The Fresh Market, New Pioneer Food Co-op and Fareway all will open new stores just a few minutes’ drive from one another in Cedar Rapids.
Chris Martinez, Cedar Rapids store manager for The Fresh Market, confirmed that the North Carolina-based specialty grocery retailer will open its 24,055-square-foot store Oct. 1 at the former Kmart location, 180 Collins Road NE.
The opening will mark the first foray into Iowa for the chain, which offers local, organic and all-natural products, prepared foods, custom cuts of meat and bulk spices.
With a similar focus on local and organic products, New Pioneer Food Co-op also has plans to open before the end of 2014, with a store in Cedar Rapids at the former Fin & Feather location, 3338 Center Point Road NE.
“We’re on target to open by the end of this year,” Operations Manager Craig Albright said. “We’re really trying to push to open by the holidays.”
Mr. Albright said the push isn’t a reaction to the pending opening of The Fresh Market.
Last year, during a press conference to announce the co-op’s choice of Cedar Rapids for its third store, New Pi leaders said the location would open in early 2015, if not sooner.
Mr. Albright said the opening date will be announced in the coming weeks.
Just blocks from The Fresh Market, preparations are under way for a new Fareway store at 3717 First Ave. SE, in the Town & Country Shopping Center.
Frederick Greiner, president and chief operating officer for the Boone-based company, said the hoped-for opening date of this fall has been pushed off to the end of January or early February 2015.
Fareway operates just over 100 stores in Iowa, Minnesota, Illinois, Nebraska and South Dakota.
Nothing in particular delayed the Cedar Rapids project, Mr. Greiner said. He pointed to logistics in razing buildings at the site, the recycling of materials and other aspects of demolition that take time.
The new building, at more than 30,000 square feet, will include a fresh bakery, full-service meat department, farm-fresh produce and competitive prices, he said.
Mr. Greiner said the store isn’t in a race to compete with the other area groceries and noted that Fareway has been in the Cedar Rapids area for 18 years.
“People already know us,” he said. “We seem to develop our own niche and it works for us.”
If nothing else, the three new stores might be in competition for employees.
Fareway plans to hire 80 to 100 mostly part-time employees for the new store. Job interviews will be conducted later this year, with employment opportunities to be posted at www.fareway.com.
The Fresh Market, which operates 160 stores in 26 states, has already hired many of its 90 workers that each store employs, Mr. Martinez noted, with available positions listed at careers.thefreshmarket.com.
“We have been really pleased with the fantastic employees we have hired from the Cedar Rapids community,” he stated in an email.
New Pioneer recently announced the hiring of Matt Steigerwald, executive chef and owner of the former Lincoln Cafe in Mount Vernon, to lead its prepared foods team in Cedar Rapids.
After operating the cafe for 12 years, Mr. Steigerwald sold it to Rachel Sauter, who reopened it this year as the Palisades Café.
Mr. Steigerwald, well-known for his innovative flavors and focus on fresh, local foods, shared mutual interests with New Pi, Mr. Albright said.
“We’re really excited to have him on the team,” he said. “We thought Matt would be perfect to make this a destination place to eat, as well as a grocery store.”
About 30 people work at New Pioneer’s new North Liberty bakery, The Hub, which opened two months ago. Deli staples and more are made at that site, Mr. Albright noted, while cookies, breakfast pastries, muffins, scones and other items will be baked fresh at the Cedar Rapids store.
New Pioneer has its key Cedar Rapids leaders in place, Mr. Albright added, and will hire a total of about 50 staff for the 14,400-square-foot store. Job announcements will be made on its website, www.newpi.coop.
A prepared foods section, with dine-in seating, is taking shape at the New Pioneer site, with wall installation getting underway last week.
The building will offer numerous energy-efficient and environmentally friendly features, such as LED lighting in the interior and a bioswale in the parking lot, which uses native vegetation to collect and filter storm water runoff.
As it does at its two locations in Iowa City and Coralville, New Pioneer will focus on buying fresh produce from local growers. The Fresh Market also offers local foods, but neither Mr. Albright nor Mr. Martinez see that as cause for concern.
“We have a distinctive concept that rarely competes directly with other food retailers,” Mr. Martinez said via email.
He noted that The Fresh Market offers smaller, more intimate stores, classical music, soft lighting and other amenities that provide a unique shopping experience.
New Pioneer’s Mr. Albright echoed those comments.
“We don’t view it as competition,” he said. “We’re happy that there’s a bigger focus on local and organic foods. It will be nice for Cedar Rapids to have more options.”