COLUMBIA — The Root Cellar is relocating just three blocks away this month, but the shift will give the store more space, more sunlight and — the owners hope — more customers.
In May, Jake and Chelsea Davis, along with their friend Bryce Oates, assumed ownership of the grocery store, which has offered locally grown and organic food products to Columbia residents for the past 10 years.
For the past five years, the Root Cellar has been underground at Eighth Street and Broadway. On June 28, it will move up to street level at 1023 E. Walnut, next to Artlandish Gallery in the up-and-coming North Village Arts District.
The building has triple the space — and the new owners have big plans for it.
The relocated Root Cellar will be more than a market for meat and produce, the Davises said.
There will be a lounge area where customers can access free Wi-Fi, a bar serving coffee, tea and deli products, and a stage for bands in the evenings.
The market is already considered a full-service operation, providing products such as meat and dairy, dried goods and sauces. With the additional space, there will be more room to display produce and merchandise and house additional refrigerators to allow the Davises to expand the line of dairy products.
The focus of the Root Cellar has always been on buying locally to support distributors in Missouri and the Midwest. Jams and jellies come from Rich Hill, lettuce and other produce from Terra Bella Farms in Auxvasse, meat from Legacy Beef in Salisbury and honey from Bonne Femme Honey Farm in Columbia.
At any one time, up to 250 vendors could be supplying products to the market.
For items that can’t be obtained in Missouri, the Root Cellar looks for sustainable, naturally or organically grown foods of high quality. For instance, because there are few yogurt suppliers in Missouri, the distributors are based in Iowa and Indiana.
“So they’re still Midwestern, and it’s as close as we can get, but it’s a really high-quality, organic product,” Jake Davis said.
The focus on community-supported agriculture also fuels the Root Cellar's Missouri Bounty Box program.
Customers arrive each Thursday to pick up a box packed with a variety of fresh produce. The bounty box is a Community Supported Agriculture subscription program that was typically only offered over the summer but will now be extended through the winter months as well.
The summer program began with about 25 participants but now serves up to 60 families. The market is accepting subscriptions through the early weeks of July with a target of 100 customers.
“You know it’s there, and it’s ready for you, and you don’t have to worry about what’s going to be available at the farmers market and what’s not,” Jake Davis said.
The box also contains recipes and information about the farms that produce the goods.
“We think people should know everything they possibly can about the food they’re eating,” Chelsea Davis said. “As a grocery store, it’s our responsibility to explain where the food comes from and how to use the food once they get it home.”
The new location offers other conveniences to customers, including seven designated parking spots and nearby metered parking.
“Parking makes a lot of difference,” Jake Davis said.
The Davises plan to integrate the Root Cellar into the community through events such as Artrageous Fridays and the North Village Arts District Farmers and Artisans Market, set to open June 26.
“We like the North Village Arts District," Jake Davis said. "It seems like a nice community for what we’re doing.”
Downtown developer John Ott seemed to think so, too, which is why he contacted the Davises when a vacancy opened on Walnut Street.
“It just seemed like it would be a really good step for the district, which is kind of an 'eco-art district,'" Ott said. “You’ve got Wilson’s Fitness and other health-oriented businesses in the area, as well as the arts. Now you have a first-rate grocery venue.”
Lisa Bartlett, owner of neighboring business Artlandish Gallery, said she’s excited about the Root Cellar’s arrival on many levels. Not only does she plan on doing her grocery shopping there, but the businesses can also collaborate on community events.
The Davises are already commissioning artwork from the gallery.
“They’re looking for art that deals with food,” Bartlett said. “Just having another venue for people to show artwork is really exciting for me because I love to help connect people with things like that. Maybe I’ll even do a food series.”
The Davises both grew up in Seneca on family farms, which gave them a passion for creating a sustainable farm economy.
“We’ve seen what value family farms can provide,” Jake Davis said, “but we’ve also seen how commercial agriculture and corporate agribusiness have kind of destroyed the family farm atmosphere and how commercial grocery stores have put so much pressure on the share of the dollar the farmer gets."
"We want to try to remedy that system in some ways because we don’t think it has to be that way,” he said.
Before delving into the retail side of agriculture, the Davises were in the rural development business, working with minority and beginning farmers. They helped farmers create business plans, conduct feasibility analyses and apply for grants.
“We’ve been working with and participating in the local food business for a long time, so it seems to be the right time for us to begin so-called 'putting our money where our mouth is,'” Jake Davis said.
Consumers have to look at their food a little differently when buying locally, the Davises said, but the benefits are numerous.
“You know where it’s coming from, what farm it came from and the value of supporting someone here in Missouri who’s growing those bell peppers that are so good,” Chelsea Davis said. “And they’re also usually quite a bit more fresh.”
“Many of the things on our shelves have just been picked the day before,” Jake Davis said. “I don’t think many grocery stores can say that.”
The Root Cellar is just one facet of the Davises’ and Oates' statewide investment strategy. They recently acquired Mainstream Community Capital, a company dedicated to supporting innovative farm, food and forestry ventures.
“We’re trying to at least contribute to the building of a broader statewide local food network,” Jake Davis said, “so the Root Cellar happened to be a unique fit, and it looked like a really good first opportunity for us to get in to the retail side of the business.”
The store on Broadway will be closed from June 24 to 27 and reopen at the Walnut Street location on June 28. The move is just three blocks, so the Davises hope to retain their patrons and welcome new ones.
“We have a nice following of customers now, but we think there’s more people in Columbia who are thinking about where their food comes from, who’s growing it and what they’re doing to their food,” Jake Davis said.
“We believe that we’re going to be an anchor tenant here,” he said. “We plan on sticking around for a long time.”