HILLSDALE - Spelling relief for Hillsdale residents who have had to travel far and wide for groceries the past few months, officials at Food Front said they are optimistic that they will be able to move into the former Wild Oats store in the Hillsdale Shopping Center as early as July.

'Everything's moving along really well, and we aren't expecting any bumps in the road,' said General Manager Holly Jarvis.

The final decision, however, is up to the co-op's eight-member board of directors who are expected to vote on the issue in April. The official date for the vote had not been scheduled as of press time.

Business and civic leaders anticipate the grocery store will fill a very large hole left by Wild Oats when it abruptly left the building in October. The monthslong process to find a new anchor tenant has left some surrounding businesses experiencing a sharp decline in the number of customers to their establishments.

The 6,800-square-foot site is too small for modern grocery stores, but Food Front officials say the site suits them just fine.

Food Front is a cooperative grocery store, meaning that its customers are also its owners. The store has a commitment to buying locally grown food, something Jarvis said is a perfect complement to the popular Hillsdale Farmers' Market.

'We can have symbiosis that way,' she said. She added that Food Front is excited about the opportunity to add to and support the local business the Farmers' Market has been able to sustain.

Community activist Rick Seifert said the cooperative concept will bring a welcome attitude to further encourage Hillsdale residents to take part in their community.

'I think Food Front is going to change the whole business culture here,' Seifert said.

Food Front's current location, at 2375 N.W. Thurman St., has about 3,000 members, any of whom are eligible to run for election to a three-year term on the board.

'We're literally owned by the community,' Jarvis said, 'and I think that's really appealing to folks.'

For now, Jarvis and her team are still hammering out the details with contractors, equipment suppliers and others. Updates to the building, such as replacing the floor, adding new lighting and other cosmetic fixes, would all have to be done before the building could open, she said. The cost to open would be just over $1 million with about a third of that going to inventory.

Employees at Food Front's current location are busy working on a training manual for the new store, as well.

Jarvis said that because Food Front's customers own the store and tend to be more conscious consumers, they generally expect employees to know a lot about their products.

Food Front's outreach manager plans to host a table at the Hillsdale Farmers Market in the near future to get reactions from the community and sign people up for a membership. The cost of and ownership share is $150, which can be made as a lump-sum payment or a $5 monthly payment for 30 months, or until the $150 is paid off. Either way, ownership benefits start immediately and the share is fully refundable at any time.

Tom Mattox, outreach coordinator for the store, said Food Front has already received a lot of positive response from the community and the staff is excited to be part of the Town Center revival.

'The Hillsdale neighborhood is such a great fit for a co-op,' he said.

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