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Willy Street Co-op completes its renovation and narrows its sites for third store
WILLY STREET CO-OP | GRAND REOPENING

Willy Street Co-op completes its renovation and narrows its sites for third store

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The juice bar has been moved to the front of the store, and there is a full-service meat counter, hot food bar and an expansive cheese area.

The $4 million renovation of Willy Street Co-op, 1221 Williamson St., includes higher shelving for more product display, an expanded courtyard, a pizza oven and more room in the back of the store for dry storage, and refrigerated and frozen foods.

But the work is far from over.

While the 10 months of construction at Willy Street East is completed, attention is now being focused on possible expansion of the Willy West Store in Middleton and on selecting a site for a long-talked-about third location.

Anya Firszt, co-op general manager since 1996, said this week that an announcement for a third location could come by the end of the year. One option being considered is building a 10,000-square-foot store instead of renovating existing space, a project that would begin in 2015 and cost more than $6 million.

Co-op leaders have looked at 20 to 25 sites in the greater Madison area and have narrowed the list to three.

“Several have surfaced to the top as being more ideal than others,” said Firszt, who began working at the co-op in 1985 as a volunteer cheese cutter. “We want to take an adequate amount of time to design and make the third store very much a part of the flavor of East and West.”

The renovation and upgrade to the Williamson Street store was the fifth for the store, which moved to its location in 1999. The store, now with more than 31,000 members, was upgraded at the time of the move followed over the years by three other minor projects. The just-completed work cost more and was more involved than the previous four combined, Firszt said.

Shoppers will now find a new produce section, gender-neutral bathrooms, an improved entrance and exit, and a new community room. A 1,000-square-foot addition to the back of the store provides more storage. But the most noticeable changes revolve around food, including a self-serve hot bar that this week included a three-cheese mushroom penne pasta, vegan fried rice, ginger candied carrots, meatloaf and jerk chicken.

The full-service meat counter features fresh cuts of meat and brats, and has a butcher on duty to answer questions. Nearby, a natural gas-fired pizza oven was stoked to 613 degrees for made-to-order pizzas.

The juice and smoothie bar is also seeing more traffic. Instead of being hidden in the back, it’s now near the store’s front entrance.

“That’s really important,” said Michelle Schinker, coordinator of the bar. “We’re getting a lot of new faces.”

The co-op, with 350 employees and sales of $42 million in 2013, was founded in 1974. The $3.5 million Middleton location was added in 2011. A grand reopening celebration for Willy East runs through Sunday.

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