Hungry to grow, Miner’s pursues super expansionAt a time when many businesses have pulled in their horns, one local grocery chain has continued to aggressively grow and invest in its current stores.
By: Steve Kuchera and Peter Passi, Duluth News Tribune
At a time when many businesses have pulled in their horns, one local grocery chain has continued to aggressively grow and invest in its current stores.
Miner’s Inc., the Hermantown-based parent company of Super One Foods, has acquired some stores and expanded others. And, prevented by state law from selling spirits in grocery stores, Miner’s has bought a second Minnesota liquor store.
“We’ve never bitten off more than we can chew, and over time we’ve developed some very good relationships with creditors as a result,” said Robert Halvorson, vice president of operations. “We’ve been able to take advantage of some very favorable interest rates in today’s market to help us become even more competitive in the future.”
Competition for work in the building trades also has proven advantageous for Miner’s multimillion-dollar expansion efforts.
But Halvorson said growth has not come cheap.
Miner’s has ticked through an impressive list of projects in the past year and a half.
Here in the Twin Ports, it has expanded its Lakeside operations by about 40 percent, boosting the size of its neighborhood store to nearly 25,000 square feet.
Miner’s also is putting the finishing touches on an expansion of its Oakes Avenue store in Superior, which grew about 20 percent in size, to 68,000 square feet.
The Piggly Wiggly store the company long operated in Woodland is being recast as Woodland Marketplace Foods and is receiving a major update, too.
And finally, Miner’s just received a green light from the city of Duluth regarding plans to expand its store off the Miller Trunk Highway by 10,000 square feet, although Hovland said that project is still in a formative stage.
Growing in a new direction
Three years after buying its first liquor store, Miner’s recently purchased Liberty Liquors at 210 N. Central Ave. in West Duluth and plans to triple the size of the operation.
“You’re going to find all the things you would expect in a newly upgraded liquor store,” Halvorson said. “Every variety will be expanded. There will be more promotions. We intend to serve the West Duluth market in a whole new capacity. It will be bigger and better than anything down there.”
Liberty Liquors — which will be renamed Super One Liquors — sits across an alley from the parking lot for the Super One grocery store at 5300 Bristol St. Super One hopes to connect the two parking lots, making the stores more accessible to each other while making the stores easier to get to from Central Avenue.
Super One is retaining Liberty Liquor’s employees.
Halvorson said the liquor store expansion should be completed by late summer. The expansion from about 2,000 to 6,000 square feet is possible because Miner’s also bought the building, which housed Liberty Liquors and a Video Vision store, from Video Vision owner Brian Augustine. The video store closed earlier this month.
Miner’s owns nearly 30 grocery stores in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Dakota. Each state has different laws governing the sale of beer, wine and liquor in grocery stores. Super One sells beer, wine and liquor in all five of its Michigan stores and in two Wisconsin stores where local regulations allow. But Minnesota prohibits groceries from selling anything stronger than 3.2 beer.
Miner’s supports the Minnesota Grocers Association’s Wine with Dinner initiative, which aims to change state law to allow grocery stores to sell wine. But the initiative has not succeeded.
More than three years ago the firm bought its first Minnesota liquor store in Cloquet. As with Liberty Liquors in West Duluth, the Cloquet store is near a Super One grocery store.
“Business has been unbelievable,” Super One Liquor manager Angelo DeCaro said. “We’ve grown dramatically the last couple years.
“We are really excited to get into the Duluth market. We can’t wait to have the store remodeled.”
Super One is keeping open the option of buying additional liquor stores as opportunities arise, Halvorson said.
The company has been growing farther away from home, as well, seizing on tough times to consolidate markets by buying out one-time competitors.
In Park Falls, Wis., Miner’s successfully approached Gustafsons with an offer.
“I think the economy certainly weakened and took some of the resolve out of our competitor, and consolidation made sense,” Halvorson said, looking back on the 2009 deal.
Miner’s quickly followed the purchase with what Halvorson called “an aggressive expansion” of its Park Falls operations, taking an 18,000-square-foot store and more than doubling its size to 43,000 square feet.
“It’s a new facility from end to end and should be good for many years to come,” Halvorson said.
Miner’s began 2009 by buying out a competitor in Hurley and consolidating operations there, as well.
In August, in Wadena, Minn., the company purchased a retail store from Mason Brothers Grocery, investing in operations there to better combat Wal-Mart’s entrance into a relatively small market. Mason Bros. continues to operate as a wholesale supplier to grocers throughout the region.
“Both 2009 and the first part of 2010 have been a busy time for us,” Halvorson said.
Miner’s recent flurry of activity has been intense, but Halvorson said the company’s mind-set is to keep new projects coming.
“Miner’s has always been very proactive about reinvesting so it can continue to compete well into the future,” he said.