WATERLOO --- Opening for business is only one step in the role RiverLoop Public Market Co-op will play in downtown development.
The co-op, which opened Thursday after a preview opening Sept. 30, offers locally produced food. The market shelves not only provide downtown with a fresh food source but possible business opportunities.
The member-owned grocery store offers local food, but is more than an indoor farmers market. The space includes a commercial kitchen and could help a variety of new endeavors get off the ground.
"Really one of the goals of the RiverLoop Public Market is to expand the market for local producers and extend the season when they can sell food," said Jill Weber, health program specialist for the Iowa State University Extension and co-op board member.
Locally grown food can be available long after harvest through blanching, freezing, canning and other processes that can be done at the Public Market, she added.
However, the people performing the task will have to either be licensed as a food processor or supervised by someone who is.
The Public Market is licensed through the Black Hawk County Health Department as a food service provider. Food processing licensing will have to come through the Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals.
Co-op leaders Rick and Julie Kiefer and chef Dan Ankrum plan to go through the two-week certification training at the University of Nebraska.
"We may have to stagger it," Rick Kiefer said, adding he plans to have the three certified by the beginning of next year.
That license can also give culinary entrepreneurs an opportunity to put their concoctions on retail shelves. For potential producers like Megan Hannam, of Waterloo, who can sell goods at the farmers market, the facility offers an opportunity she wouldn't have otherwise. Hannam makes organic granola bars and earlier this year had samples of them at the downtown Waterloo farmers' market. State guidelines for food distribution vary between what can be sold at a farmers market and what can be sold in a retail store. Food must be produced under the supervision of someone licensed in food processing before it can be sold in the store.
For Hannam, producing granola bars is a hobby. Before the co-op opened, there was little chance it would be anything but a hobby. Her kitchen wouldn't meet the certification requirements for retail sale, she said.
"I cannot achieve that just because of the way my home is built," she said.
Hannam said she will probably use the kitchen once it's available, adding she's excited about the opportunity it can provide to other potential producers too.
"It gives them a chance to test it out without having to go through the hoops and certifying their own kitchen," she said.
Another license the co-op will vie for in the coming weeks is a liquor license to sell regional beer and wine.
"We know there's a lot of that out there," Julie Kiefer said. "We'll have to do some research."
Trevor Schellhorn, owner of Broad Street Brewing in Reinbeck, has already had questions about when his micro brew will be available at retail outlets. For now, the beer is available on site in pints or growlers. However, Schellhorn said he plans to begin putting beer into kegs and bottles this winter. The co-op could offer an opportunity for his burgeoning business.
"That's something that's nice in general to have, a demand for your product and a market for it before you even get it on the shelf," Schellhorn said.
The opportunities for entrepreneurs might extend beyond the co-op shelves to another downtown development project. The co-op could spur food source enterprises, said Carry Darrah, general manager of TechWorks. The bio-based agricultural industrial center at the site of former John Deere assembly operations could house those potential businesses, she said. What those may be is anyone's guess.
"We could see food research science, distribution, storage," Darrah said. "It could be a niche that we've not even considered."
That tie-in is a big reason behind both developments, said Brian Vandewalle, of Wisconsin-based Vandewalle & Associates, which has been contracted by the city of Waterloo to develop a comprehensive downtown development plan.
"I think the community needs to understand the strategy behind this," Vandewalle said. "Food brokers can come here and they can see the products being produced in this region."
A little closer to home, the store has already given downtown a much-needed source of food.
"What we're seeing is downtown becoming not just an entertainment district but a residential district," said Jeff Kurtz, executive director of Main Street Waterloo. "Having a grocery store itself will help with that."
The building is owned by the city of waterloo but the cooperative business is owned by the members who buy a $100 share of the business. Members get a discount for shopping at the store and a share of the profits the store might bring in. The cooperative will also pay 10 percent of the net profits to the city for rent at the space. Nonmembers are welcome to shop there as well but don't get a member discount.
"We may be open, but we still need members," Julie Kiefer said. "That's what keeps the lights on and keeps the shelves stocked."