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Wausau Daily Herald
March 7, 2006
Section: Front Page
Page: 1A

Grocery store coming to downtown Wausau

By Nick Sargent
Wausau Daily Herald nsargent@wdhprint.com

Long requested and researched, one of the missing ingredients from downtown Wausau will be added to the mix this summer.

Nearly two years in the making, downtown resident Kevin Korpela and local organic farmer Blaine Tornow are shooting for a May 1 opening for Downtown Grocery.com, 607 Third St. The 1,400-square-foot space, the former home of Vullings Floral and Gifts, is undergoing renovation.

The store will offer a mix of organic produce as well as dairy, meats, frozen foods, canned and baked goods and sundries like paper towels and soap.

The store is not meant to compete with the supermarkets in town but to complement them, the owners said. It will provide a destination for the growing number of customers searching for organic foods and also will allow downtown residents and workers a place to pick up a quick bag of groceries during a busy day.

"I think it will be a fantastic addition to the business mix -- a real needed addition," said Amy Altenburgh, director of Wausau Area Events. "It certainly is similar to our other unique downtown stores as well. It's a unique experience.

"In their instance it's ... organic but it's also very convenient ... you can pick up some fresh items or whatever you need to make dinner that night, pick up milk or day-to-day items and then do your major shopping on a Saturday afternoon."

Korpela and Tornow already have hired Chris Mosse and Valerie Berkely, two local artists, to manage the store. The duo has painted a mural in the windows of the store that serves as temporary advertising and a way to conceal the renovation work that's already revealed a long-forgotten wood floor and tin ceiling.

The store also will hire additional part-time help.

Tornow has run Moonshadow Farm, a certified-organic operation in the Town of Berlin, for 16 years. Much of the produce will come from that farm, with out-of-season and unavailable items, like bananas and mangos, coming from other organic suppliers.

Korpela and Tornow have been developing plans for a downtown grocery store for nearly two years. The old Vullings location presented itself after other sites fell through.

The grocery will fit nicely into the eclectic mix of businesses already on the block, such as Evolutions in Design, the Back When Cafe and Surroundings, said Korpela, who lives a block from the store and is an architect at Becher-Hoppe Associates, another downtown business.

"Many people visit a city's downtown," Korpela said. "If someone is applying for a new job in an area, they want to see the downtown. It's a symbol and image that you identify with an area." The grocery store adds to the mix of businesses that make for a thriving downtown, he said.

Korpela and Tornow say Downtown Grocery.com may take time to become the profitable venture they envision. But they are confident this model will work and hope to bring it to other communities once the concept takes off here.

"There's already been a tremendous response from people saying that this is something that is so much needed in Wausau," Tornow said. "Just like any business, I'm sure it's going to take time. We're excited and confident (it will grow) through advertising and word-of-mouth."

On the Web --- You can learn more about Downtown Grocery.com at its Web site, downtowngrocery.com. The site will be updated with stories about farmers and others who will supply the store's products as well as lists of the items available at the store.

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Kevin Korpela, www.observatorydrive.com