ELY – This community will be losing a grocery store this fall as the two Ely markets, Northland and Zup’s, merge into one in a remodeled former Shopko building. Ely’s fourth …
ELY – This community will be losing a grocery store this fall as the two Ely markets, Northland and Zup’s, merge into one in a remodeled former Shopko building. Ely’s fourth off-sale liquor store, and a second pharmacy, will also open in the facility.
Jimmy Zupancich, of Zupancich Brothers, Inc., updated the city council Tuesday night on his family’s plan of growth in Ely as construction crews began renovating the nearly 30,000-square-foot retail space this week.
Zupancich said Ely shoppers will likely have to wait a bit longer to enter the new store this fall, as estimates of a Labor Day grand opening have been pushed back to October.
The Northland Market, purchased by Zupancich Brothers last fall, will be closed and vacated, as will the current Zup’s Market. Employees of both operations will be combined, and Zupancich estimates that as many as 90 workers will be employed in the new store.
“The old concrete on the floor is being pulled out to allow for new drain work for all the freezers and refrigeration units,” he said. “We’ve been working with the city to address the electrical needs for the new store. The grocery and dry goods area will be twice as big as our existing store.”
When Shopko closed, so did half of Ely’s pharmacy services. The Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital hired more pharmacists and renovated their operation in the Essentia Clinic to try to pick up the slack.
A new pharmacy, with drive-up service, could be returning to the community this fall.
“We are about 15 days away from a contract being signed with a major pharmaceutical company with plans to go into the building,” Zupancich said. “Our fingers are crossed.”
The DBS Group, of Onalaska, Wis., is the general contractor for the construction project. “They went after local contractors first,” he said. “Some are doing work for us and others felt the job was too big.”
Zupancich said the contractor is hoping to turn the keys over to the owners by Labor Day. “But the shelving supplier right now is 26 weeks out for delivery,” he said. “That puts us almost to Christmas, but hopefully we can get a jump on it.”
“Our goal is to open by the second week of October, and possibly by the end of September.” After the meeting, he admitted that numerous construction projects, including the $20 million Ely school renovation, squeezed the construction labor market this year.
“We don’t know how long this will take, but we are committed, and we’ll find a way.”
Zupancich said his family is excited about the new project.
“We’ve been working on this for several years and finally everything just melded together,” he said.
In terms of rumored clothing and dry goods availability in the new Zup’s Market, he could not add much more information.
“We are still working on that. We have some limited supplies coming in. With COVID, all those buying shows in March were canceled. We will start with some odd items in there, but eventually we hope to have a bigger selection in the store besides the groceries,” he said.
Off-sale liquor store
To make the project work, Zupancich admitted the necessity of adding a fourth off-sale liquor operation in the Ely community. The new liquor retail space, estimated at about 6,000 square feet, will be located on the east end of the building. A separate entrance from the grocery store is required.
“Shoppers won’t be able to buy their groceries and alcohol at the same time without exiting the market and then entering the off-sale facility,” he said. “That is state law.”
He revealed that the Zupancich family had considered adding liquor sales to their existing store for a decade.
“We looked at purchasing the house next door and knocking it down to make room for liquor sales,” he said.
“To make this all work, with our financing, this is what we have to do,” he said. “We talked to two of the three liquor store owners here and they are aware of it.”
Council member Al Forsman noted that Minnesota is the only state that limits grocery stores to selling 3.2 beer in stores.
Council members voted 6-1 to approve the off-sale liquor license for the new Zup’s Market. Before that action, Forsman introduced a resolution in support of existing local liquor store operators by recommending that the city attorney draft an ordinance limiting the number of licenses for exclusive off-sale liquor establishments to one store per 900 residents, with the minimum number of available licenses at four, which the city now has.
The proposal came on the heels of the council’s approval of an off-sale liquor license transfer application by Eric St. Martin, owner of Ely Liquor (formerly Lakeshore Liquor), who is planning to move his Sheridan Street operation to the former Family Dollar store, practically in the shadow of the new Zup’s Market. St. Martin voiced concerns that another liquor store in town will dilute his sales.
“It is important to have competition to maintain fair prices,” Forsman wrote in his proposal, “but allowing additional operators will flood our limited market. This would make it impossible for any of the existing businesses to survive. These businesses have no ability to re-invent themselves because they are only allowed, by statute, to sell alcohol and specific alcohol-related items. It is our responsibility to help maintain a fair retail field for them.”
Forsman’s motion failed to move forward for lack of support. Forsman was the lone dissenter in the vote granting the liquor license to Zup’s.
Discussion of the city’s off-sale liquor license issue continued at the end of the council meeting during open forum. St. Martin claimed that other Minnesota cities that he investigated had strict liquor license caps.
“I’m all for competition, but you are just watering it down,” he told council members.
Interim Mayor Chuck Novak resonded, “We have no legal basis to deny that license (for Zup’s). If we deny that license request, we are sure to have a lawsuit, and the taxpayers will have to pay the legal costs to defend a lawsuit the city can’t win.”