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The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has awarded a $250,000 grant to Florence County to help reopen a grocery store that has been vacant for more than seven years. The store will be owned and operated by Pat’s Foods, a six-store IGA grocer based in Florence.
Ben Campioni, owner of Pat’s Foods, said the company had been considering reopening the store in Florence for the last five years. But financially the project was not feasible until Florence County Economic Development Director Wendy Gehlhoff told the company about WEDC’s new Community Development Investment Grant Program and submitted an application on its behalf, said Campioni. Campioni also owns and operates grocery stores under the Pat’s Foods name in the Upper Peninsula communities of Houghton, Hancock, Calumet, Ontonagon and L’Anse.
“We will strive to be an asset to Florence and the surrounding area by providing products and services needed by the residents and seasonal visitors,” Campioni said. “We take part in the communities we serve by giving back to the towns and local charities generously, and we base our business around being hometown proud.”
According to WEDC, the lack of a full-service grocery store has been an impediment to economic development in the county and has been an issue in recruiting potential employees, state and county officials say. It also has resulted in half of the county being declared a food desert by the federal government.
“Not only does this project fill a critical need for the residents of Florence County, but it has a significant economic impact as well,” said Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch. “The new store will create about 20 new jobs, and it establishes a downtown anchor that could lead to additional retail growth.”
After several years of trying to fill the vacant Haberkorn’s grocery store, Pat’s Foods, an Upper Peninsula IGA grocery chain agreed to take over the building and open a new store. The county in March created a Tax Incremental Financing (TIF) District to help fund the project, and the WEDC grant provided the final piece of the necessary funding.
The new grocery store, a $1.2 million project, is expected to open in June.