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Eyota council OKs EDA loans to help grocery store buyers

February 17, 2019

EYOTA — No deal is done, but this one is inching closer to the finish line.

The Eyota City Council voted 5-0 to approve a pair of economic development authority loans to Eric and Brenda Bennett, potential buyers of Eyota Market.

In December, the city hosted an open house at the American Legion to discuss the owners’ plans to sell – or possibly close – the city’s only grocery store within the year.

The 14,400-square-foot store was opened by local businessman Al Schumann. But when Schumann died in 2013, the store was part of his trust, which the family now feels obligated to close.

Fortunately for Schumann’s heirs and for the city, which would like to see the store remain open, parties have come forward, showing interest in purchasing the business.

One party is Eric and Brenda Bennett, owners of Bennett’s Food Center and Catering in Plainview. The Bennetts were approved for a pair of EDA loans totaling $25,000 from two separate Eyota EDA revolving loan funds on Thursday night. The loans would come at a 2 percent interest rate for 10 years.

Cathy Enerson, Eyota’s EDA director, said the EDA made the recommendation based on a strong presentation by the Bennetts for purchase of Eyota Market. “They made the recommendation based on a strong candidate with experience in management and the ability to run the store,” she said.

The deal is still pending an appraisal and an environmental study.

At this point, the deal would include both the grocery store and the convenience/gas station on the site, she said.

“The potential buyers have local experience,” Enerson said. “We’re delighted to help them or any buyer who can add to our tax base and community growth.”

Enerson added that People’s Electric Co-op will also consider a request for funding to help the Bennetts purchase the store. That decision will be made at a March 1 PEC meeting.

Vicki Arendt, one of Schumann’s heirs and the person who runs the store for the family, said several potential buyers have come forward, though she doesn’t want to name anyone not in the public record at this point.

A second potential buyer, according to city records, has requested a conditional-use permit for the site. That buyer would use the location for something other than a grocery store or any other business currently zoned at that site.

In December, Arendt said she and her two siblings would prefer the building remain a grocery store like their father had planned.

“Our dad asked us to do something with the grocery store, and that’s what we want to do, is keep it a grocery store,” Arendt said. “We wanted the city to be prepared for what our plans are for the future so that they could possibly come up with a solution.”

On Thursday night, Council Member Bryan Cornell said the city has heard from parties showing interest in Eyota and the store from as far away as the Twin Cities. However, the approval of the loans shows the city’s commitment to help make a deal to keep a grocery store in town.

“It’s the city doing what we can to get the purchase of Eyota Market to a known and successful grocer,” he said. “The EDA is providing the same tools they would provide anyone else.”

Eventually, the city just wants to help keep a vital business that can help with community growth remain a part of Eyota’s landscape.

“Generally, it’s a good amenity for the city,” said Council Member John Chesney.