Okanogan Market IGA opens today

Checkers Linda Ott (foreground), Mauri Ellingson and Kathy Zesiger (right) work out the intricacies of the computerized cash register in the Okanogan Market IGA store.

OKANOGAN — A soft opening for the Okanogan Market IGA store is today, Feb. 28.

The store, 310 S. Second Ave., will feature a full line of groceries, plus a bakery, deli and the Free Bird Espresso coffee shop.

“This will be the second-happiest place in the United States” after Disneyland, said David Weber, general manager for four grocery stores owned by Phil Blackburn.

Store hours are 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily.

Blackburn said customers should be patient, since store employees are still learning their jobs, and some fixtures and products may not be completely in place on opening day. A March 21 grand opening is planned.

“We in Okanogan are happy to welcome a new business along with its owners into our strengthening community,” said Mayor Jon Culp. “The new store will be filling a longtime hole in our downtown business core. I’m looking forward to shopping at yet another great small business in town.”

Okanogan Market IGA occupies the building previously known as the Okanogan Food Depot. The Food Depot, then owned by Bellingham-based Brown and Cole Stores, closed in mid-2007. In late 2013, Okanogan business owner Deep Bains said he planned to reopen the 29,000-square-foot store under the same name.

Blackburn said he’d been looking at the building for more than 10 years and asked about it multiple times until last spring, when he saw a “for sale” sign out front and was able to strike a deal with the family company with which Bains is affiliated. The sale was completed in October 2017.

Brown and Cole left the place in good shape, but nearly a dozen years of vacancy took their toll, he said, adding the roof “was shot” and pipes split after the electricity was turned off and water frozen in them.

Sprinklers were replaced and the exterior was cleaned up. Weed-filled planters were removed and wood decking out front was replaced by concrete.

“It’s my vision to have the front as a gathering place,” Blackburn said of the covered area. “It’s pleasant out front, even in summer. We will have tables and chairs out there.”

He credited Malott resident Joe Simonsen, who previously worked for Brown and Cole, with heading up the team that put the building back in shape.

“He’s very handy,” Blackburn said. “He’s done a fantastic job.”

Except for refrigeration, all work was done by local contractors – from plumbing and electrical to landscaping, concrete finishing and roofing.

“We had 100 people in here last week,” he said Friday, gazing across the store’s interior that still bustled with workers and employees being trained. “It’s a madhouse,” he said, as crews stocked shelves, continued installing fixtures and made sure various systems worked.

“It’ll be a pretty store,” Blackburn said.

Okanogan Market IGA will employ 45 people in full- and part-time positions. All are local except one, and five previously worked for the Okanogan Food Depot, he said.

Manager and assistant manager, respectively, are former Food Depot employees Don and Beth Motes.

The store will feature a variety of brand-name groceries, plus IGA label and Super Values Everyday Essentials items and a line of organic products. Gourmet cheeses, a Hispanic foods section, St. Helens beef, and beer and wine round out the mix. Blackburn said he plans to offer spirits eventually.

In-store bakery and deli areas will feature items that could change once store officials get a feel for what local shoppers want. The deli will offer store-made salads and other ready-to-go items, including rotisserie and baked chicken, hot foods, hot dogs and site-made pizzas.

“It’ll be pretty fun,” he said. “It’s the second-biggest deli I’ve dealt with.”

Weber said the store will buy local produce, including organic products.

“In the summer, the majority of our produce is local and from the Northwest,” Blackburn said of offerings at his four stores, which include Martin’s Market in Cashmere, Quincy Market, El Mercado in Grandview and Okanogan Market. “When you’re an independent store, you can offer farm to shelf.”

Folks entering the store also will smell the coffee.

Kara Yusi, owner of Free Bird Espresso, 326 N. Second Ave., has leased space at the front of the market for a coffee shop with seating.

“I’m excited to offer a proper coffee shop for people,” she said. “They’re going to want to be here.”

She said she’ll offer java from Blue Star Coffee Roasters in Twisp, plus tea, chai and chocolate drinks. The selection will be different from what she offers at the Second Avenue drive-through and will include French press, cold brew, drip and other styles, plus a dozen flavorings.

“We’re thrilled to have her here,” said Weber.

Blackburn said the store plans to be involved with the community.

“We do a tremendous amount at our other stores,” Weber said.

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