Goodbye organic millet and wheat grass. Hello organic ginseng and rice. The former Gentle Strength Cooperative at 9 E. Southern Ave. in Tempe, which became insolvent and closed in February, will reopen on May 10 as an organic and natural food grocery store.
Village Market, owned by a privately held company in Los Angeles, is the first Asian natural and organic grocery store in the state and the first of many that company officials hope to open in the Western United States.
Jay Seo, the company’s vice president, said the store’s format will remain virtually unchanged with the exception that the food will mostly be Asian, it will have a larger produce section with fresher foods, it will have no bulk bins and it’s controlled by a private owner.
Other than that, most of the products will be organic including all of its produce, meats, dairy and eggs. The store will also serve organic dry goods, frozen entrees and deli food. Village Market also will sell vitamins and herbs.
Seo said the parent company, which has its own farming, wholesale and trucking operations in California, chose to launch its retail component in Arizona because California’s organic Asian food market is too crowded.
The 36-year-old Gentle Strength Cooperative, which was governed by voting members since its founding in 1971, closed after years of financial difficulties and a move to its new location at Mill and Southern avenues.
A series of financial missteps led to the store’s demise, starting with the sale of the coop’s property at 234 W. University Drive and relocation to 9 E. Southern Ave. The sale helped pay off hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt. Officials said the store’s governing board sold the property for $2.5 million, which was substantially below its market value. The little liquidity left was spent on costly equipment purchases and tenant improvements to the new store, which opened in October. With no remaining capital, former board member Paul Bonanno said the organization had to take out new loans.
Co-op officials had hoped a private investor would step in to reopen the store.
Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of the grocery consulting firm Strategic Resource Group, said Village Market would likely become successful in the Valley.
“Being the first Asian organic store in the metro market, it should do extremely well,” he said.
That’s because Asian-Americans are becoming much more health conscious and others who want organic Asian food currently have no other options, he said. Flickinger pointed out that similar eastern and Asian organic food retailers have a proven track record in Hawaii, California, Texas, New York and New Jersey.
Victor Aronow, a Tempe resident and one of the co-op’s original founders, said he’s happy a new organic and natural food grocer is taking over the co-op’s old location.
“I think it’s great,” he said. He thinks organic food lovers will be particularly drawn to the store’s deli and food bar. “That will really give them a lot of customers.”