Double-digit growth leads to major expansion at Oryana

TRAVERSE CITY – Oryana Natural Foods Market has broken ground on a 6,500 square-foot expansion to their 10th Street store, riding a wave of booming sales that began after moving to the site eight years ago.

With an estimated completion date of next summer, the expansion on a now vacant adjacent lot will more than double the store's retail space. The member-owned co-operative grocery also plans to open a deli with seating for 30, with plans to include a coffee and juice bar, a hot-and-cold food bar and a line of grab-and-go items.

In line with both sales and Oryana's Local Foods Initiative, started in 2004 to support local farmers and promote locally grown and produced food, the produce area of the new store will triple its floor space.

Other store departments, including the high demand frozen, dairy and supplement areas, will also expand and offer more products.

"Our goal has been to try and supply the basic and fundamental needs of a healthy diet and lifestyle to the broadest base of customers we serve," said Bob Struthers, manager of Oryana for seven years.

The expansion is not being done just for growth's sake, but to reflect Oryana's general mission to touch more lives.

"For us, it's really not about making money or growing the business, it's really about serving people's needs," Struthers noted. "Our goal is to enhance the customer shopping experience."

Following a co-operative business model, Oryana, which began in 1973, offers member-owners a package of benefits to join. There are just under 4,000 member-owners at this time, a 100 percent growth rate since 1996. However, non-members are also welcome to shop at Oryana, though Struthers estimates that between 80-85 percent of shoppers are member owners.

Oryana's elected Board of Directors sifted through growth options as year after year store sales broke records. In fact, since moving from their former location on Randolph St. in 1997 and doubling their retail size, business had more than tripled and the number of employees doubled.

To keep pace with this sustained growth, Oryana upgraded the older building's infrastructure: adding additional cash registers and office space, expanding the parking lot, increasing product offerings and upgrading the cash register system.

"The customer demand steadily increased over the whole time and we now have between 550-600 customers a day," said Struthers. "In spite of the ups and downs of the economy, Oryana has experienced double-digit growth over the years."

The board examined issues of growth and capacity, mission and community during a years-long process. The seven board members, who are elected to two-year terms, wanted Oryana to grow while adhering to co-operative principles, building and contributing to community, both within the membership and the Traverse City region, and positively modeling the environmental and workplace practices that guide Oryana.

According to Struthers, this goal required finding a delicate balance between expansion and ideals.

"It's important for co-operative businesses like ours to hold onto its values while adapting to the current business environment," said Struthers.

The board also surveyed Oryana's membership about options that included totally relocating, opening a second store and expanding at the current location.

"Staying at the current site was most popular and that was very aligned with the board's desire to stay in the city limits of Traverse City," said Struthers.

Construction is scheduled to begin this month. Architects Ken Richmond and Rick Skendzel will guide the project with Harmony Home Construction as the general contractor.

Where feasible, the expansion will be built using environmentally friendly materials and energy savings principles. Plans for this include using recycled and previously used materials, planting on the roof for insulation, walls constructed of blocks of straw and clay and capturing rain water for use in irrigation. The store also hopes to use heat generated by state-of-the-art refrigeration units to warm the store during the winter. Oryana's roof already sports a solar water heater.

An Oryana Green Dream Team will continue to help guide the expansion. From helping map out environmentally-friendly ideas listed above in the big picture, they are also encouraging nuts and bolts ideas such as using boards from bleachers torn out of Old Mission Peninsula School in the new deli's ceiling.

"We're really excited about all the recycled and found materials in the remodel," said Struthers, a member of the team that has been meeting for months. "We definitely have elicited the help of local visionaries to be on our design team." BN