After several delays, Fresh Thyme Farmers Market in St. Louis Park officially opens Wednesday, creating a new test for how a smaller-concept store can do against the larger groceries that dominate the Twin Cities suburbs.
The new store, Fresh Thyme’s seventh in the metro area including St. Cloud, is surrounded on busy Excelsior Boulevard by three competitors that are almost within cantaloupe-throwing distance: Target, Lunds & Byerlys and Trader Joe’s.
“This store has been done for two months,” said Troy Logan, director of operations for Fresh Thyme. “But the whole building had to be completed and it just got the occupancy permit yesterday.”
The store, along with a Fresh Thyme liquor store that will open Thursday, occupy the ground floor of a new six-story building that is mainly a 164-unit apartment complex run by Seattle-based Weidner Apartment Homes. Leasing has started but the apartments won’t begin to fill until next month.
Joy Tiggemann of Golden Valley stopped by Tuesday to check out the Fresh Thyme store before it opened. “I love their produce and their healthy living section,” she said. “They have brands that are more natural with fewer additives.”
Milwaukee-based supermarket analyst David Livingston said that one of specialty grocer’s strengths is its low prices, especially on advertised items. “Their quality is similar to others but with lower prices, they’re more competitive,” he said.
In 2016, Fresh Thyme Chief Executive Chris Sherrell estimated the chain would have 12 or more stores in Minnesota by 2020. They are getting close but may not hit the mark.
A new store will open in the spring in the Prospect Park neighborhood of Minneapolis. A Rochester location will open in 2019. Still under consideration are West St. Paul, Coon Rapids and St. Paul near the former Ford plant site, but no leases have been signed, Logan said.
The Minnesota market has been especially strong for the company. “In the 10 states we’re in, we’re experiencing the highest average sales per store in Minnesota, so we’re looking to grow in this market,” Logan said.
The Chicago-based company remains passionate about its connections to the local community and farmers. It buys produce from Pahl’s Farms in Apple Valley, Wescott Orchards in Elgin, Minn., and Living Greens Farm in Faribault, Minn. J&J Distributing in St. Paul cuts up the fruit and vegetables for all of the chain’s 68 stores.
One question lingers in the minds of many shoppers in the Excelsior & Grand neighborhood: is there enough parking? A covered parking lot with 63 free spaces is on the east side of the building and can be accessed by drivers traveling west on Excelsior or from the rear of the building. There is also on-street parking and the Excelsior & Grand ramps.
The store will have grand opening specials starting Wednesday. On Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m., former Minnesota Supreme Court justice Alan Page will be at the store with his daughter, Kamie, a second-grade teacher, for a story hour, craft activity and book signing. The two have partnered to write two children’s books.
John Ewoldt • 612-673-7633