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Wednesday, January 25,2012

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Renovated East Lansing Food Co-op hosts a grand reopening celebration Sunday

by Joe Torok

The East Lansing Food Co-op is looking good these days, thanks largely to extensive renovations that took a year to come to fruition. ELFCO — which is starting its 36th year — celebrates the accomplishment with a grand re-opening Sunday.

Project manager Rachel Adams says that although the store didn’t grow much in terms of space, the $200,000 worth of renovations did streamline the store.

“We made a lot better use of the space we have,” Adams said.

Shopping aisles have been redirected to improve sightlines, the dry produce section space has doubled and more specialty beers and wine are available than ever before.  

There are new meat and cheese coolers, a new meat freezer and shiny new bulk food bins next to an enlarged workspace where grains, herbs, and other bulk items can be packed with quite a bit more elbow room.  

Among other improvements, ELFCO has invested in new shelving, energy superefficient LCD lighting and an Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant bathroom with natural light from solar tubes.

Care and detail went into even the most mundane operational aspects of the remodeling. A local electrician designed and constructed custom ballasts for those LCD lights and strategically mounted them from various angles, eliminating shadows that might have otherwise been cast by shoppers perusing products on a shelf. 

As much as possible, Adams says, the work was completed using local contractors, using environmentally friendly techniques. No volatile organic compound paints were used, for instance, and no harmful sealants were used to finish the concrete flooring.

Five years ago, ELFCO was on the brink of collapse. But things have been steadily improving. “The last four years have been better, so we made the decision to reinvest,” said ELFCO general manager Dave Finet, a 25-year veteran of co-ops.

The key to the turnaround, Finet noted, was getting more of ELFCO’s 3,000-plus member-owners involved. “Our owners really stepped up,” Finet said.

ELFCO welcomes members and non-members alike to shop its aisles filled with a rich selection of local, organic, gourmet and alternative food items, environmentally friendly household supplies, beauty products, vitamins, medicinal herbs, essential oils and much more.

An alternative to corporate-driven grocery stores, food co-ops are governed by members that vote for a board of trustees. Members also enjoy special discounts, once-a-month member appreciation days and priority service on special orders. A member share costs $60.   

The Sunday grand reopening includes special pricing on items throughout the store, free samples, giveaways and drawings for gift bags and even chair massages.

“It’s a chance to invite everyone who’s ever wondered what we’re doing in our little corner of the world to find out what we’re all about,” Finet said. “We’re going to celebrate and have some fun.”

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