*This story has been modified to correct the location of the area represented by the Douglass Park Neighborhoood Association.
COLUMBIA — Natural and organic food chain Lucky's Farmers Market is moving to Columbia to take up residence in the vacant Osco Drug Building at 111 S. Providence Road.
The Boulder, Colo., company registered a new business known as Lucky’s Farmers Market of Columbia LLC, with the Missouri Secretary of State’s office on Feb. 9.
Lucky's President Bo Sharon said the store will employ more than 100 people and sell local produce and meats from farmers and vendors. He said the more time the company spends in Columbia, the better a connection it will create with people living here.
Sharon said the company was looking for a city with a strong sense of community, and Columbia's "good people and strong values" fit well with his business. He said Lucky’s employees used the grass-roots style of getting to know Columbia. They spent a lot of time in town beforehand, shopping at the grocery stores and talking to residents.
Dave Griggs, former chairman of Regional Economic Development Inc., said that he and REDI were unaware of Lucky's Farmers Market's plans but that it will be good to have the market in the former Osco Building, which has been vacant since 2004.
Griggs said downtown has needed a grocery store for a long time. The last full-scale supermarket in the area was Schnucks, which was in the space now occupied by Office Depot. That store closed in 1993, after Schnucks established a new store in the Forum Shopping Center.
Neither REDI President Mike Brooks nor Executive Vice President Bernie Andrews were available for comment Monday afternoon about the potential economic impact of the store or its 100 jobs.
Sharon said he thinks Lucky's will serve the central city well.
"We hope to bring affordable, natural foods and the experience of customer service that is unparalleled," Sharon said. The goal is to get high-quality food into the hands of as many people as possible, he said.
The Osco Building is owned by University Centre LLC, a subsidiary of the Kroenke Group. It will need a complete overhaul both inside and out. The new store should be open by October, Sharon said.
Brent Gardner, a local real estate agent and member of the Downtown Columbia Leadership Council, said he thinks Lucky's will be a good addition to Columbia and to the central city.
"I would think so. Personally, I would really like it. I can't think of anything I would rather see there. I think it is perfect."
Gardner noted that the charette report completed three years ago by H3 Studio noted the need for a grocery store or a farmers market downtown. He said the store also would be a good service for the growing number of college students who are living downtown and well within walking distance of the site.
"Definitely, there's not a lot of healthy food options that close to campus."
Tyree Byndom, secretary of the Douglass Park Neighborhood Association, said Monday that he only just heard that the store would be coming to town and lacked enough information to know whether it would serve the neighborhood just north* of the site well.
According to its website, Lucky's Farmers Market has embarked on an aggressive campaign to expand across the Plains and the Midwest. States targeted by its expansion plan include Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Missouri, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky.
Sharon has formed a partnership with Lucky's CEO Patrick Gilliland, who the website indicates has 20 years of senior management experience with the former Wild Oats Markets and and Sunflower Farmers Market. Sharon opened his first Lucky's store in Boulder, Colo., in 2003.
Tim Overlie is the company's director of operations. He has 30 years of experience working his way through the ranks of Wild Oats Markets.
Lucky's Farmers Market has tapped the federal EB-5 program to help fund its expansion throughout the Midwest. The program was established by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in the 1990s to stimulate the economy by creating jobs and attracting capital from foreign investors, agency spokesman Tim Counts said.
“The way the program works is the investors either contact the company directly or they go through a designated regional center for investment,” Counts said.
Foreign investors are granted two-year conditional residency status in exchange for their investments.
“What they basically get is what you and I would informally call a green card or work permit,” Counts said. “At the end of the two years, if they have met their requirements, then they are eligible to apply to remove the temporary status.”
To be eligible the investor must be able to prove that the capital created at least 10 full-time jobs, excluding those held by any relatives that might be employed by the business.
Counts said the program issues about 10,000 EB-5 visas per year. “To date the program has created 46,810 jobs through the $2.3 billion invested.”
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