Expansion Clears City Council

The Astoria City Council approved a rezone necessary for our new store at the Mill Pond site. This moves us another step closer to breaking ground. Design review will be next. We appreciate those who testified and wrote letters in support of the Co-op. It really helped! The land use process is complex, especially in our city that’s rich in history and character and where commercial property is scarce. While traffic was a topic of concern at the meeting–and the vote was three to one–the desire to see our homegrown business thrive was unanimous and we appreciate our city leader’s careful consideration and support. You can read more about what happened at the city council meeting in the Daily Astorian.

Co-op Goes to City Council

Expansion Update by Matt Stanley/Co-op General Manager

Momentum in our co-op is strong! The result of nearly five years of planning and preparation mean we are poised to present our building design plans to city officials, get commitments for commercial loans, and see construction start this summer if everything stays on schedule. The Co-op project has received City of Astoria Planning Commission approval and is set to go before the City Council on March 5 at 7 p.m. We’d love to have you there to voice your support.

Indeed, I think the most asked question since we reached and surpassed our $1.5 million preferred shares goal in the fall is “when do you break ground?” The securing of owner investments was a pivotal step in moving our expansion forward. It demonstrated to our landlord, city staff and officials, the Mill Pond community, and the co-op  staff and board of directors, that there was no doubt about the co-op’s capacity to successfully take what for us is a big step forward; in terms of both size and complexity of operation at the new location.

In addition to the rezone we are seeking from the city council, we are also working on design review applications to both the Mill Pond Homeowners Association as well as the City of Astoria Design Review Commission. Final adjustments to the interior store layout are being made so that we can begin work on mechanical and architectural engineering. Trust that we are working diligently to keep our project on schedule. If we do so we may see the new store open for business by summer of 2019.

Yes Vote for Co-op

The Astoria Planning Commission voted in favor of a rezone request necessary to keep our project on track at a meeting January 24. The city council will have the ultimate say on the rezone. Read more about in the Daily Astorian’s coverage.

The planning commission meeting was lengthy. There were concerns regarding traffic but everyone agreed that they favor the co-op expansion. Following a five-year process which included a market study and looking at sites, we came to the conclusion that Mill Pond was really the only place that would work. In a beloved city where land is scarce no land use decision is ever easy.

As stated in a letter of support by Paul Benoit, who was community development director during redevelopment of the mill site: “The site at the corner of 23rd and Marine Drive has all of the key attributes needed to support a retail establishment and I can think of no better use than the Co-op to finally realize the long-held vision that Venerable Properties and the City had for the site.”

We are overwhelmed by the love and support this community is showing for our co-op. A big thanks to those who provided testimony at the meeting. We couldn’t have gotten this far in the process without you.

Expansion Goes to Planning Commission

By Zetty Nemlowill/Co-op Marketing Director

Before we can break ground on a new store, we must successfully get through the land use process and could use your help. The Astoria Planning Commission meets on Wednesday January 24 at 6:30 p.m. at Astoria City Hall to consider a zone change that’s necessary for our project to move forward, and we’d love to have you there to voice your support.

The property the co-op has leased at Mill Pond is zoned attached housing and we’re proposing it be changed to a local services zone in order to meet our requirements. Under current zoning, a store could be built there as a conditional use; however, it could only be up to 6,000 square feet and we need almost twice that. The city created this provision when planning the mixed use Mill Pond redevelopment in order to prevent a big box store from going there, but planners desired services that would complement the adjacent neighborhood and we think our new store can fulfill that vision.

Indeed, we’ve heard from future neighbors–both residential and workers from the hospital, Astoria’s largest employer–that they’ll be thrilled to walk to the co-op. While we know there is broad community support for our project, we need it voiced in the form of public testimony to the planning commission. Testimony should be based on the criteria contained in the city staff report which can be found here. If you cannot attend the meeting in person, you can also provide your comments in writing and deliver them to city hall or email Planner Mike Morgan at mmorgan@astoria.or.us.

If the commission approves a re-zone, it will then go to city council. The co-op will also need to complete design review with the city and Mill Pond home owner’s association.

While the timeline for opening the new store is fluid, our best estimate is spring 2019. Meantime we’ll be working diligently on land use, financing, layout, and much more. We look forward to communicating with you every step of the way and really appreciate your support; from providing testimony to the planning commission, telling your friends about the co-op, and shopping regularly at your community-owned grocery store.

If you have any questions, do not hesitate to reach out to me zetty@astoria.coop or our general manager Matt Stanley matt@astoria.coop.

Priced to Compete

By Zetty Nemlowill/Co-op Marketing Director

One reason I love my job is I truly believe in the Co-op; from local ownership to local food. It’s also great to work at a place everyone loves!

A complaint I still sometimes hear though, is that we’re too expensive, but we’re making some seriously impressive strides in this area. So I wanted to share with you a juicy little morsel: Not too long ago we tested $800 worth of same-product prices at a large grocery store in the area and came within 4%. I think for our little store that ROCKS!

An important aspect of growth and expansion is that the more we grow, the more we can lower prices. The more we purchase from our main distributors, the less we pay and the more savings we can pass on to you. We’ve been able to ripen our buying power through strategic sales growth and collaborating with other food co-ops from around the country.

Lower prices allow us to compete, survive and make a larger impact on the community including expanding the marketplace for local farmers and food & beverage producers. As a bonus to meeting your bottom-line, for every dollar you spend at the Co-op, 52¢ goes back into the local economy, which is huge!

So if you think the Co-op is too expensive, or if you know someone who does, please take another look and encourage your friends to do so, too. If you find a product that’s more expensive at the Co-op, let us know and we may be able to adjust the price. After all, you own this grocery store!

As we ramp up to build a much-needed bigger new store, we are prepared to compete: offering natural food groceries at competitive prices, but we’re going to do better than that. We will continue to go the extra mile to do the work we know you love: sourcing fresh local food from dozens of coastal growers and makers. Stuff you can only get by shopping outside the box.

As we prepare to compete with even more retailers, our bigger new store will help nourish our ability to serve you the great food you love in a better way than ever before.

New Year Expansion Update

Many co-op supporters have been asking where we are in the expansion project. We are currently working through the approval process. We are seeking a zone change and have to complete Design Review with the City of Astoria and the Mill Pond Home Owners Association.

The next big step is approval from the City Planning Commission on Wednesday January 24th at 6:30PM at City Hall. I’d love to have as many of you there as possible to make sure that the Planners know that there is broad community support for our project (we know there is!). We have a City Staff recommendation, which typically bodes well for applications to the Commission, but your presence will help tremendously! The public notice for the planning commission meeting can be found here: http://astoria.or.us/assets/dept_3/pm/pdf/1-24-18%20email.pdf

With approval from the Planning Commission our zone change will go to the City Council on February 19th. I’ll share those details subsequently.

Overall timeline for the project is probably pushing us into Spring of 2019 for opening. But the timeline is fluid and trust we are working very hard to move us into the new space as soon as possible. Other ongoing work includes securing bank financing, finalizing our store layout and fixture plan and much more.

Looking forward to seeing a bunch of you at the January 24th meeting at City Hall! Here’s to a healthy and cooperatively prosperous 2018!

Cheers, Matt Stanley/Co-op General Manager

Quick Expansion Update

We are basking in the support our owners have shown by investing $1.5 million dollars in just eight weeks. Planning and financing work continues behind the scenes and we’re moving full-steam ahead on building a bigger store.

One big step that’s happened is submission of a land use application to the City of Astoria. Our expansion is on the planning commission’s agenda for January 23 at 6:30 p.m. We are hoping many of you will attend the meeting to voice your support for our project (more details to come).

The big question everyone is asking is when construction will begin. If all stays on track, we are hoping as early as late spring or summer.

Stay tuned for updates.

Josephson’s Smokehouse

Local Producer Profile

By Emily Vollmer
Photos by: Trav Williams, Broken Banjo Photography

A gentle billow of smoke, sweet with the rich aroma of salmon, escapes the smokehouse door as we peek inside. A century ago, in 1917, Mike Josephson’s grandfather, Anton Josephson, tried his hand at smoking fish fresh from the docks. Starting in 1920, Josephson’s Smokehouse opened at the same storefront you can find it in today, just past downtown Astoria heading westbound on Marine Drive.

In the cold case at the Astoria Cooperative Grocery you can also find Josephson’s smoked salmon and salmon jerky, custom packed for the Co-op.

Cold-smoked is the traditional Scandinavian style originally used by the Josephson family. The salmon is cured in salt, then rinsed, and smoked. The relatively cool temperatures used (90 degrees Fahrenheit or less) means that the fish is preserved but maintains a delicate silky texture that can be sliced, whereas hot-smoked fish is cooked to a firm texture that can be flaked into pieces. Smoked salmon retains the bright color of the wild fish due to the smoking process itself. The flavor also becomes richer, more complex.

Traditional meets modern at Josephson’s Smokehouse. In the back of the building they still have a room set up to cold smoke large sides of Chinook salmon, hanging from individual stainless steel hooks, for 5 days, in the smoldering smoke of Alder logs (a tree still found in abundance on the North Oregon coast). For Mike’s dad and grandfather, “This was the only way they ever smoked fish, and I did it for a lot of years, too.” Mike says, adding, “My friends used to joke because we’d be out at a dance and I’d say, ‘well, we got to go to the smokehouse and check on the fire.’ So, they’d come back, and they were all familiar with the process.”

Nowadays, Josephson’s primarily uses a modern smoker that’s run by a computer using specialized software to control and monitor the process, along with precisely controlled smoke generators stoked with a blend of Alder wood chips. Mike says the current preference people have is for what they produce in the modern smoker. The traditional method creates a heavier smoked skin; it’s drier, and somewhat reminiscent of a ham. Since there are some people who really love it, Josephson’s smokes about 3 batches a year of the traditional style.

If you stop by Josephson’s Smokehouse you’ll most likely meet Ashley Moore at the front counter. Astoria born and raised, she’s worked at Josephson’s for 10 years now, starting when she was just 17. Ashley says she’s never caught a fish before, with the caveat that she did proudly reel in some seaweed at the age of 7. She knows the Smokehouse well and can offer knowledgeable answers and delicious samples.

Mike’s father, Cecil Josephson, was a fisherman. In the main room there’s still the loft where the nets were stored, and in that room Mike says he vividly remembers his dad melting and attaching the metal lead line to the nets. The current entryway walls are decorated with old photographs, and what is now the storefront was the living room for Mike’s grandparents.

Mike started helping out at the Smokehouse at age 12, using a wire brush to clean the rust and fish scales off of what were then steel hooks used in the smoke room. Pointing to a heavy wheel-shaped contraption leaned up against the wall Mike explains that it was the hoist they used in the cannery that they cranked by hand, lifting tens of thousands of pounds of Columbia River Chinook from the boats.

Josephson’s produced just one product for 60 years, until after Mike took over the business from his parents in 1978. They’ve since diversified to create 7 flavors of salmon jerky, 23 types of canned fish, 18 types of hot smoked fish and shellfish, and 3 types of cold smoked salmon lox.  They operate an extensive mail-order business, shipping worldwide from their historic storefront on the bank of the Columbia River.

Holiday Turkey & Pies

Holiday turkeys and pies are now available at the store. This year we’ve got Diestel turkeys. They are raised under strict standards including a healthy environment, fresh mountain water, and clean air from the Sierra Nevada Foothills. Vegetarian feed never contains fillers and birds are never given growth stimulants or antibiotics. In addition to an organic option, we also have a limited number of local turkeys from Blackberry Bog Farm. The turkeys are first come, first served. They are frozen, so please allow adequate time for defrosting. Click here to learn more: from thawing times to roasting temperatures.

We’re thrilled this year to offer you holiday pies with clean ingredients and a great price, made by an Oregon company. Willamette Valley Pie Company’s mission is to deliver you the best from their land to your hands. Pie varieties we’ll carry (while supplies last) include: apple, cherry, pecan, pumpkin, and vegan pumpkin. Pies are made with non-GMO ingredients with no added preservatives or starches.

Co-op Reaches Expansion Investment Goal

The Co-op’s investment campaign “Together We Grow” has reached its goal, raising $1.5 million to build a bigger store. The Co-op launched the fundraising effort a month and a half ago at its annual meeting.

“We’re blown away by the Co-op support that we’ve seen. It’s a clear demonstration of the fact people want to see this new store happen—and as soon as possible—because we reached our goal on time,” General Manager Matt Stanley said.

Almost 200 locals invested. The preferred shares investment offering was available to Oregon residents who are owners of the Co-op, a consumer owned cooperative. A team of volunteers mailed letters and called potential investors. The Co-op also maintained regular communications about the campaign progress via email and social media.

“We think it’s important to put money toward things that will create a meaningful future for our children and the Co-op not only provides healthy food for them but also a community around food and we really want to be a part of that,” Investor Megan Oien said.

Even though the investment campaign is officially over, the Co-op has more shares available for those who still want to invest. The more money kept local, the less the Co-op will need additional bank financing to make the project happen.

The Co-op will now focus on completing the design, going through a land use approval process, and working to keep the project moving forward as fast as possible.

The Co-op plans to build a new store at 23rd and Marine Drive in Astoria that’s about four times bigger than the store’s current location at 14th and Exchange. Double-digit growth in the last five years has led the Co-op to seek more space. The new store will have a larger deli, fresh meat & seafood, a wider selection of organic and local produce, and more parking.

The Co-op, formerly known as the Community Store, has been in Astoria since 1974. The number of Co-op owners recently topped 4000. About 80% of the Co-op’s shoppers are owners, but it is not a requirement to shop. The Co-op welcomes all shoppers and is hoping to expand its shopper-base even more with the new store.