Mississippi Market's Grand Opening

I had the pleasure of attending the Grand Opening celebration for the newest Mississippi Market Natural Foods Co-op in St. Paul on Thursday morning. Although I don’t have an “official” count, it looked as if I was joined by about 250 other folks eager to get in right when the store opened to check out the new space. The opening ceremony was brief and to the point, and included words from Gail Graham, General Manager; Nina Johnson, board president; and St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman. Mayor Coleman hit the nail on the head when talking about how, in our American culture,” we oftentimes forget the cultural connection between who we are as a people and what we put in our bodies.” Eating locally helps bridge that gap. And Mississippi Market leads the charge here in St. Paul.

I want to thank Darci Gauthier from the Mississippi Market for spending a few minutes with me while I enjoyed the new store. Also thanks to Nikki Reed from Haberman for getting SG&T hooked into the event.

The store itself is a beautiful, bright, comfortable place to shop. And believe me, I was shopping. I loved how well the store flowed. Mississippi Market is double the size of the recently-closed Randolph Avenue and offers everything you would expect from a full-fledged co-op grocery: tons of produce, natural and organic grocery items, local dairy and meat and a plethora of bulk products. I was blown away by the bulk assortment and thrilled to see that so many of the items are available from local sources. I also loved that they had bulk offerings of household cleaners, laundry and dish soap and less common items like Dr. Bronner’s soaps (all flavors), EO hand soap and lots of Nature’s Gate bath & body products. Awesome!

Aside from simply being bigger than the former location, the market also offers a lot of things which are new and, if I may say, quite slick: a juice bar, a salad bar, a custom sandwich counter and a hot foods bar including pizza. The salads, hot foods, select bakery items, and a fantastic assortment of dips, spreads and salsas are all made onsite at Mississippi Market from the Selby Avenue location. The West 7th Street store is outfitted with a full production kitchen and will spin up in the coming months. And Darci also tells me that the store has another trick up its sleeve: store-made sausages and meat cut onsite by the new full-time meatcutter, Kristine Szczech. Kristine is a professional angler, former chef and writes for the blogs for the Star Tribune’s Club Outdoors.

About 40% of the Mississippi Market assortment comes from local producers and distributors. Year round, the meat department is around 90% local and during the summer months, the produce department is about 90% local. The produce managers buy directly from more than 30 local and regional growers. The store itself is gorgeous and features lots of green materials. Although Mississippi Market has chosen to not seek LEED certification at this time, the store was built in compliance with LEED Gold Standards making it highly energy efficient and light in its carbon footprint. Beautiful indeed.

So how does it all stack up? I did a quick spot check of some of my $100+ purchases against the assortment and prices at Whole Foods and found little difference. WF had cherries from Washington; MM had Door County. WF was slightly cheaper on a few store branded vitamin/supplement items, but more spendy than MM on eggs, milk and even asparagus. But overall, I thought the shopping experience, quality of produce and breadth of assortment were absolutely comparable.

The real difference is simple: being part of a local business. I liked the idea of becoming a co-op member-owner so much that I joined 9,600+ others and signed right up! For $90, I received a stock certificate, a handful of valuable coupons, monthly specials, regular discounts and the ability to shop at most of the other Twin Cities’ cooperatives as a member-owner. If business is good, I may even get a patronage refund! I truly appreciated their payment plan option, as well. For a small fee, I put $25 down on the spot and then will pay off my membership every 6 months instead of laying out the cash up front. For those of us managing our pennies tightly, this was a wonderful – and obviously compelling – offer. Darci says the Market is looking forward to celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and hopes to have more than 10,000 members at that time. Judging from how many first-timers there were like myself on Thursday morning, I bet they’ll reach that goal in no time. According to Darci, more than 650 people had entered the market yesterday by 4:00. Nice!

As a big supporter of local businesses of all kinds, I am thrilled to have this new Mississippi Market so close to my home. As with the farmers markets, I love knowing that my dollars can go toward foods which are locally raised, produced, distributed and sold. And I love knowing that, as a member-owner, I am an active participant in the success of this sustainable, local circle. Cheers to the new Mississippi Market!

The market is located at 1500 W. 7th Street in St. Paul, just off of Hwy 35E and less than 5 miles from the airport. They are open 8:30am – 9pm daily.

Tracy Morgan is a Twin Cities foodie and the owner of Segnavia Creative, a marketing services consulting company located in St. Paul, MN. I'm thrilled to have her contribute to Simple, Good, and Tasty.