The Columbus Food Co-op will open a long-planned grocery store next year in a renovated factory.

The member-owned co-op intends to lease 8,400 square feet of space on the north end of the building at 1580 Central Ave., said Mike Johnston, food co-op board president.

Members of the food co-op learned of the store location last week during its annual meeting at Columbus City Hall during a report by board member Dan Fleming, chairman of the co-op’s site-selection committee.

A letter of intent was signed last week between food co-op directors and landlords John Counceller and Andrew Counceller, Johnston said.

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Farm-to-market operations have been a growing trend in Indiana.

The Columbus Food Co-op began discussing the idea of a grocery store in 2010 and spent nearly all of 2015 focused on a former Aldi store on 25th Street, but the co-op was unable to generate enough funding commitments to move forward on the $1.8 million project.

Co-op members are optimistic about the new store and fundraising that is underway.

The co-op is launching a capital campaign with a goal of raising $2.1 million for the store project. About half of that amount will come through a mixture of loans and investments from owners, in addition to grants and contributions from the public, Johnston said.

The co-op will pursue the remainder of its necessary funding in loans from commercial lenders and a cooperative lender, he said.

“A real plus for the co-op is that the landlords also are co-op owners. John and Andrew Counceller will be outstanding partners as we work to open the co-op grocery store,” Johnston said.

An initial layout and design of the new store is being developed, with construction expected to begin in early 2018 to meet a late-year opening, Johnston said.

The co-op is looking to create a “cozy shopping experience” for people who walk in the door, he said.

“We want to appeal to the broadest segment of the community as we can,” Johnston said.

The new store — which will be open to the general public — will benefit from having a central location in Columbus and being on a street served by public transportation, Johnston said.

But one of the biggest benefits for shoppers will be knowing where their food came from, Johnston said.

Consumers will be able to purchase food from growers within a 100- to 150-mile radius, including produce, meat and vegetables, as the co-op looks to position itself as a full-scale grocery store.

“What we’re hoping is to be a catalyst for small farmers,” Johnston said. “We want to be able to say we have a high percentage of local products.”

The co-op estimates first-year sales of local food and products to reach $500,000, growing sales to $2 million by its 10th year, he said. The store is expected to employ at least 30 workers including a general manager, he said.

The co-op hopes to increase its total membership to 1,500 people by the time the store opens, up from about 900 now, he said.

Welcome mat

Existing business operators in the emerging retail center said they are looking forward to the food co-op’s arrival.

Norma McLeod opened Donut Central at 1504 Central Ave. a month ago with daughter Marlee Brunni and a family friend, Christine Griggs.

Donut Central offers a variety of donuts, including a flavor of the week, in addition to yogurt parfaits and other items. McLeod said she thinks it will be a good fit for the culture of Columbus.

“The support from the community has been phenomenal,” McLeod said. “The food co-op provides another welcomed addition to all of the shops on Central Avenue and Columbus is looking forward to it.”

Wendy Graham, who owns Simply Pottery, also said it is exciting to see new businesses come into the strip mall.

Graham’s business was the first, relocating just over a year ago from a location along Third Street. The new location has given her business more visibility, she said.

Other tenants include Blondie’s Salon & Spa, First Call Staffing and the Barber & Beauty Academy.

Graham said addition of the food co-op should be an asset for other businesses.

“If we’re all doing well, it’s good for everyone,” she said.

Project timetable

Construction is expected to begin on the Columbus Food Co-op in early 2018 with the store opening late next year at 1580 Central Ave. An initial store layout and design is currently being developed, said Mike Johnston, food co-op board president.

About the Columbus Food Co-op

Mission: To serve and strengthen the Columbus area by providing wholesome foods and products while practicing and encouraging sustainability.

Goals: Support local producers, provide health-enhancing food, help people lead healthier lives, be good stewards of the environment, among a few of its goals.

Membership: One-time fee of $90, which can be paid online and in three installments.

Member benefits: Member discount days, member appreciation days, community partner discounts, pre-order discounts, monthly natural foods newsletter, patronage refund.

Information: Visit columbusmarket.coop

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Matt Kent is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at 812-379-5712 or mkent@therepublic.com