Only grocery store in Cook a ‘total loss’ after fire

Cook residents are facing at least a 30-minute drive to buy groceries after the only grocery store in town burnt down Monday night. A fire reported Monday evening at Zup's Market, 201 U.S. Highway 53, burned through the night and the building is ...

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Cook residents are facing at least a 30-minute drive to buy groceries after the only grocery store in town burnt down Monday night.

A fire reported Monday evening at Zup’s Market, 201 U.S. Highway 53, burned through the night and the building is a “total loss,” the St. Louis County Sheriff's Office said Tuesday morning. The store was closed at the time of the fire and no injuries were reported, the Sheriff’s Office said.

On Tuesday afternoon, area residents were driving through the parking lot looking at the store, getting out and taking pictures.

Among those stopping were Robin and Kirk Fisher of Cook.

Kirk had stopped at the store Monday afternoon to pick up pizza ingredients.


“It is heartbreaking. We know the employees, the owners,” said Robin Fisher. “It’s 25 miles to the next grocery store. At least no one was hurt. That is a blessing.”

Robin and Kirk Fisher were among the Cook area residents stopping by Zup’s Tuesday. Steve Kuchera / DNT

Cook residents now need to drive about 30 minutes to another Zup’s in Tower or to SuperOne in Virginia to pick up groceries.

But it’s more like an hourlong drive to either location for Carol Carlson, who lives on Pelican Lake north of Cook.

Carlson, who owns Comet Theatre in Cook, said Zup’s was more than just a grocery store - it was place that hosted fundraisers and organized community events.

“It’s pretty much the lifeblood for all our basics,” Carlson said. “It was such a staple here.”


The inside of the Cook Zup’s store as seen through an open front door. Steve Kuchera / DNT

Zup’s co-owner Jim Zupancich said they’ll be back.

“Oh, we will rebuild,” Zupancich told the News Tribune on Tuesday morning.

That’s welcome news for Diane Pascuzzi, who lives only two minutes away from Zup’s.

Pascuzzi said Zup’s is her family’s “go-to place” while summer cabin residents and visitors to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness depend on the store.

“I hope they rebuild by summer,” Pascuzzi said.

The fire was reported to the Sheriff’s Office at about 8:45 p.m. Monday. Within a minute, a sheriff's deputy was at the grocery store and saw smoke and flames coming from the back of the building, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The deputy requested mutual aid from surrounding fire departments and multiple agencies were still working to extinguish the fire at 4 a.m.


The McDonald’s near the scene remained open overnight for emergency officials as the temperature fell to 2 below zero.

Around 3 p.m. Tuesday, Cook firefighters returned to the scene with one fire truck to put out a smoldering area within the building.

Cook firefighter Dan Reing walks past the rear of the Zup’s store on Tuesday afternoon. Steve Kuchera / DNT

The cause of the fire is under investigation by the Sheriff's Office and Minnesota State Fire Marshal. On Tuesday, a deputy state fire marshal joined Cook Fire Department Chief Pete Johnson to look at the damage inside the store.

Zup’s, a family-owned grocery store founded in Ely in 1916, runs five locations in Northeastern Minnesota: Ely, Babbitt, Tower, Silver Bay and Cook.

In a Tuesday afternoon statement, Cook Mayor Harold Johnston thanked emergency responders and said the city was turning its attention to those most closely affected by the fire.

“We need to focus on the immediate needs of displaced workers, shoppers and the store owners,” Johnston said. “Cook is a close-knit community. We will all come together to get through this loss.”

Reconstruction can’t come soon enough, Pascuzzi said, especially with the holidays near.

“This is a tough time of year not to be employed,” Pascuzzi said.


News Tribune photographer Steve Kuchera contributed to this report.

Related Topics: COOKIRON RANGE
Jimmy Lovrien covers energy, mining and the 8th Congressional District for the Duluth News Tribune. He can be reached at or 218-723-5332.
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