By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, MN The possibility of a grocery store opening in Howard Lake has made local residents hungry for answers.
“When will it open?” and “What will it offer?” were a couple of the questions people asked during the grocery store public hearing Thursday at Howard Lake City Hall.
Potential joint-owner Dan Cummings of Champlin addressed an audience of 10 to 15 residents and local business owners, as well as the city council.
He and his partner, Ohler Goncharenko, who lives near Rush City, met 15 years ago, and have been in the ownership business together for seven years.
Previously, they had both owned separate stores.
“We have a combined total of about 65 years of grocery experience,” Cummings said.
The city council approved a business subsidy for the company, Ohlerdan Inc., to reopen the grocery store, but tabled the lease agreement and purchase agreement.
“The retailer hasn’t been able to review it,” city administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp explained.
“Some things are still in the works,” Cummings said, adding that the City of Howard Lake has been easy to work with and very supportive.
Cummings and Goncharenko currently own two other small grocery stores, one in Rush City and one in Lindstrom.
“I’ve worked in stores with $40,000 per week in sales, all the way to $500,000 per week in sales,” Cummings said. “I’ve kind of seen it all.”
However, the other stores were already in operation at the time of purchase, which makes the Howard Lake store a “new challenge,” Cummings said.
“It will be difficult, but I think, doable,” he said.
Howard Lake resident Nancy Newman voiced her concern about this issue.
“How are you going to grab people and bring them back into the fold?” she asked.
“Good communication,” Cummings answered. He plans to have a weekly advertisement, as well as flyers and mailers.
New equipment will likely be another draw to the store, Hinnenkamp said. The oldest piece will be about five years old, and much of the store will be brand new.
“It’s going to be bright, new, and clean,” she said.
“That’s probably one of the biggest attributes of our stores,” Cummings added. “They’re clean, clean, clean.”
Sharon Dalbec of Howard Lake had a few practical questions about the store, including the issue of carry out service.
Cummings said he plans to offer bagging and carry out, and have a full produce and meat department, as well as a deli with hot foods for lunch.
“We want you to be able to buy everything you need,” he said. The store’s generic brand will be Our Family, and the store will be called Howard Lake Foods.
One resident asked about offering organic foods.
“We’ll look at anything,” he said. The Lindstrom store, for example, offers locally grown products such as honey, corn, squash, and apples.
“Whatever’s available, we try to make connections and make that work,” Cummings said.
As for the bakery department, “that’s still a question mark,” according to Cummings.
“I’m open to all options,” he said. “It all depends on the support we get.”
The amount of support extends to store hours, as well. The Rush City store is open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the winter, and until 9 p.m. in the summer, while the Lindstrom store hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. in the winter, and until 10 p.m. in the summer.
“We kind of fluctuate with the seasons,” Cummings said. “We’ll test the waters and see what’s needed here.”
The Howard Lake store will also bring jobs to the area, Cummings said.
“We’ll probably be bringing in a store manager and a meat manager, but other than that, it’ll be all people we hire locally,” he said.
Store opening date
A big question people have been wondering is when the store will open.
“I’d love to give you a date,” Cummings said, but added that he has to wait and see how the lease agreement goes.
“I don’t want to wait long,” he said. During the summer months at his other two stores, sales increase by about 15 to 20 percent, he said.
Ideally, Cummings said he’d like to be open before Good Neighbor Days at the end of June.
“Now, it’s going to be up to us to make sure the store stays here,” Howard Lake Mayor Rick Lammers said.
“Based on the number of questions I’ve been asked in the past three years, I’m pretty confident there’s enough support to make it work,” Hinnenkamp said.
“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” Lammers added.
Anyone who has questions about the store can call Hinnenkamp at the city hall, (320) 543-3670.