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Previous owner seeks County EDA loan to open Kiester grocery store

By Staff | Nov 18, 2012

Re-opening of the grocery store in Kiester may hinge on two loan applications and could mean the return of a familiar face.

Mayor Jeanne Brooks gave an update on efforts to find a new tenant for the building at Monday’s council meeting.

She says Nick Graham – who operates a grocery store in Rolfe, Iowa, – has applied for funding from the Faribault County Economic Development Authority and Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation (SMIF).

“They’re in the process of doing all the background checks,” says Brooks.

In July, Graham met with the full council.

Faribault County Development Corporation executive director Linsey Warmka, who has been contracted by the county EDA for services, says Graham is seeking a loan for $45,000.

“The executive committee is reviewing the financials and will make a recommendation to the full board,” she says.

The three-member EDA committee consists of board chair Jake Anderson and board members Colleen Gronewald and John Herman.

Graham also has applied for a $30,000 loan from SMIF.

“I’ve probably spoken with him 40 times since July. I told him it would be the council’s decision,” she says. “And, it will depend on finances and a lease that would protect the city and have no loopholes.”

Graham earned the title as “Youngest Grocer in America” for owning and operating small-town groceries since he was 17.

In 2006, he re-opened the Truman grocery store and also operated one in Armstrong and later Kiester.

Graham sold the businesses to Brad Gohla, who closed the Truman and Kiester stores last June.

Brooks says five other leads – parties currently in the grocery business – have fallen through.

But, she isn’t letting that discourage her.

“We will negotiate any offer. Anyone can call me, 24 hours a day, or members of the City Council. We want to get someone in there to provide a service to the community,” she says.

Meanwhile, operating the grocery store as a cooperative business is being explored.

Last month, members of the city’s EDA board, Brooks and other community residents met to discuss the idea.

At that time, resident Judy Meyer presented information obtained from cooperatives currently operating.

Meyer told council members they should consider investors owning and operating a business as a viable option.

“I’m still convinced we can do this. We’d have full control of the store . We just need to get some financing,” she says.

Brooks agreed, saying “it’s better to have a group of people in control than having one who could walk out on us.”

Council members asked Meyer to form a task force to further research the idea and report back.

In other business:

council members tabled a vote on whether to give all city employees a pay raise.

Councilman Dean Johnson says no one should get a raise this year because the budget is too tight. He suggested maybe increasing hourly wages then freezing them for three years.

City Clerk Kari Jacobson says any pay hikes would not increase the budget or increase taxes.

Councilman Monty Flaskerud and Brooks both oppose raising taxes so workers can get paid more.

Brooks asked the council to certify results of a survey conducted last December on whether to grant Kee Lanes & Grill two liquor licenses.

The results and a petition supporting issuance of the licenses were presented at a meeting last January.

The mayor also wanted permission to shred the survey questionnaires.

“I have a shredder in my car. If you want me to get it and shred them in front of you I will, otherwise I’ll do it at home,” Brooks says. “They are not for public view. I don’t want them in my possession, but I don’t want them anywhere someone can come in and have access to them.”

The mayor was storing the findings at her home because the responses were considered confidential.

Brooks’ mayoral opponent questioned why the results were not being kept locked up at City Hall.

Council members counted the survey forms and also gave Brooks permission to destroy them at her home.