Business

New Pioneer Co-op remakes portions of Iowa City, Coralville stores, services

Renovation over relocation

Shoppers walk past the ongoing renovations in the deli section of the New Pioneer Food Co-op in Iowa City on Thursday, May 16, 2019. (David Harmantas/Freelance)
Shoppers walk past the ongoing renovations in the deli section of the New Pioneer Food Co-op in Iowa City on Thursday, May 16, 2019. (David Harmantas/Freelance)
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More than five years after plans to move the downtown Iowa City New Pioneer Co-op fell through, the food co-op is undergoing renovation rather than relocation.

“It’s been a number of years since we invested in the Coralville or Iowa City stores. We’re at the point now where we want to reinvest for the long term,” said New Pioneer General Manager Matt Hartz.

In 2013, the Iowa City Council passed over a plan that would have moved the grocery store to the first floor of what is now the Chauncey building. Since then, Hartz said, they’ve shifted focus.

 

“We always keep our radar on. We would look at the right opportunity, but it’s not a priority for us right now,” he said.

“At this point, there is not any viable place downtown.”

In 2014, New Pioneer’s Cedar Rapids location opened at 3338 Center Point Road NE. No renovations are planned for that store.

“Cedar Rapids is doing well for New Pioneer. It’s been very well received by the community,” Hartz said.

At the Iowa City store, 22 S. Van Buren St., and the Coralville location, 1101 Second St., changes to the deli areas are underway.

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Going forward, neither store will have service counters — customers will have to drive to Cedar Rapids if they want a freshly made papagayo sandwich — but they will add large salad and hot bars.

Already made sandwiches, soups, salads and other deli items still will be available.

“It improves convenience. We’re able to serve a large number of people in a shorter amount of time,” Hartz said. “We have had good success with the hot and salad bars in the Cedar Rapids store, so we’re bringing that to Johnson County.”

The Coralville store also will get a sushi station and a fresh juice and smoothie station in partnership with NewBo City Market vendor Get Fresh.

Other planned changes include a small seating area in what currently is the lobby area of the Iowa City store.

Additional upgrades to both stores include improving the efficiency of lighting, refreshing paint and decongesting traffic flow.

 

Hartz said he anticipates construction on both stores wrapping up later this summer.

Going digital

The grocery business remains competitive, Hartz acknowledged. He said they saw a small lift in business when Lucky’s Market closed at the Iowa City Marketplace — formerly the Sycamore Mall — in March.

“We have a good balance sheet, and we have a long-term view of the market, and that’s why we’re reinvesting. The food world has changed so much the last five years, and we’re continuing to adapt to it,” Hartz said.

To that end, physical renovations aren’t the only changes coming.

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“We’ve been working for the last 18 months building our own e-commerce platform so people can order groceries online. It’s where the market is going,” he said.

 

Customers will be able to order groceries on an app or on the website and then pick them up at the store. That will launch at all three stores in a few months, Hartz said.

At the same time, the co-op will test a small pilot grocery delivery project at the Cedar Rapids store, with the potential to then role it out to Johnson County.

“We’re just a small, locally owned community business that’s making the investments we need to survive,” Hartz said.

• Comments: (319) 398-8339; alison.gowans@thegazette.com

 

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