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Wausau Daily Herald
March 10, 2006
Section: Editorial Page
Page: 8A

Downtown grocery store will fill niche

"Our View" by the Editorial Board
Wausau Daily Herald


City development always has involved a chicken-egg argument.

Which comes first, the demand for a new project or the new project itself in anticipation of demand?

In the case of Downtown Grocery.com, the new store announced this week, the development is both chicken and egg -- and a free-range chicken and organic egg at that.

Downtown resident Kevin Korpela and local organic farmer Blaine Tornow hope to have their new store up and running in the old Vullings Floral and Gifts building by May 1.

They will have a full range of grocery essentials with an emphasis on all-natural foods grown on Tornow's town of Berlin farm and imported from other organic operations.

Korpela and Tornow's venture will be welcomed with open arms -- and we'll all wait to see what their new business helps hatch next. Ever since property owners began restoring second-floor apartments and encouraging people to live in the heart of the city a few years ago, there has been talk of a grocery store as the missing piece of the "24-hour downtown" puzzle.

The question was, would there eventually be enough people living downtown to support one? Or would a supermarket open first, driving developers to build more apartments and homes?

With luck, the city has reached the tipping point -- with enough residents and visitors to keep the grocery open and a new and unique store that will help push investors to build long-anticipated riverfront condos and other housing.

But let's not count this chicken, so to speak, before it's fully hatched.

The key to survival likely will be the thousands of folks who spend their days downtown and then return to Wausau-area neighborhoods after work. For now, there probably aren't enough people living in the heart of the city or enough people willing to travel for organic food to sustain the store.

But if the bankers and office workers and insurance salespeople and investment counselors and travel agents and shop clerks and artists and others who work downtown occasionally stop to grab ingredients for dinner, Korpela and Tornow likely will make a go of it.

Their May 1 opening date seems ideal. That's about the time the weather will be nice enough for folks to start spending their lunch hours outdoors, strolling the Pedestrian Mall and exploring stores.

Any new business is a dicey proposition. The vast majority go under within the first couple years of operation.

But Korpela and Tornow think they've got a winning idea. We wish them the best of luck.

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Kevin Korpela, www.observatorydrive.com