Co-op Awaits Expansion Into Empress Lot
The one solitary food co-op in Wyoming is alive and well in Laramie. The Big Hollow Food Co-op on 1st Street is not only thriving but expected to expand as well; the State Land and Investment Board recently approved a Laramie Business Ready Community grant request for $3 million to construct a new building in the Empress Lot, the ground floor of which the coop has pre-leased.
Marla Petersen, Big Hollow Food Co-op general manager since the store’s outset nearly ten years ago, said the success of the coop wouldn’t be possible without the strong customer base.
“We are very supported by our customer and membership base and we are driven to provide the kind of things they are asking for,” Petersen said.
Petersen acknowledged that timing was also factor in the store catching on with Laramie residents so rapidly.
“There is a big movement to start consuming things produced locally; there is a group of people who want that,” Petersen said. “Plus, you know, everyone eats.”
Lucky timing also played a part in Big Hollow’s expansion into the planned building. Petersen said the co-op had been looking for ways to expand for about five years, as business exceeded their expectations even then.
But, Petersen said, they had limited options since it was important to their customer base that the co-op stay in the downtown area. That’s when the Laramie Main Street Alliance and the City of Laramie stepped in.
“The Main Street Alliance and the City of Laramie wanted to apply for a grant to redevelop the Empress Lot and they were looking for a reliable tenant for the planned building.”
Petersen said the new building will allow them to double their space and remain in the downtown area.
“The Empress lot is just across the alley from us. We actually purchased part of the parking lot in the hopes that we would be able to expand. So we get to retain that parking space once we move to the new building.”
Having twice the space will allow the co-op to better meet their customer’s needs. Petersen says the biggest challenge with the current building is the lack of freezer and cooler space.
“The demand for local cheese, meat and eggs is very high,” Petersen said.
The co-op will also expand their “grab and go” selection for those who work downtown.
The interest in the Big Hollow Food co-op propelled the business to success and Petersen said other communities in Wyoming and the surrounding region have come to the store, interested in forming their own co-cop.
“They want to know how we put this thing together.”
It may very well be that the expansion on the co-op in Laramie is the first step in the dispersion of co-ops across the state.