Old Building, New Mission
Agricole Farm Stop will support local producers.
by Shelley Daily
Published in June, 2019
The first floor of Chelsea's long-vacant Mack Building will be reborn this summer as Agricole Farm Stop, a year-round, everyday farmers market and cafe. Modeled after Ann Arbor's Argus Farm Stop, Agricole will sell exclusively local products--including produce, dairy, eggs, meat, bread, and prepared foods--with 75 percent of the revenue going directly to local farmers and producers. Cafe sales will help cover costs.
"Small businesses struggle, and groceries struggle, but if you have a mission to rally around, it can work," says Abby Hurst, one of Agricole's four founders. Hurst bought the building with her husband, Joe Ziolkowski.
"It was an eyesore," she recalls of the brick factory that in the early 1900s housed the Chelsea Manufacturing Company, producer of the Welch auto. "There were two trees growing through the roof. Developers had walked away for years."
Ziolkowski and Hurst--who both grew up in Jackson and lived in California for several years before moving their family to Chelsea in 2006--"wanted a business that would be positive for the community," she says. Learning that more downtown housing was a priority, they turned the second floor into four one-bedroom apartments. Everyone "from friends to the mayor," she says, also shared the need for a small grocery downtown.
Hurst says when she first stepped into Argus in Ann Arbor with its "local produce, small bodega feel, and conscientious and caring people, I wanted this place in Chelsea." Through Transition Town Chelsea, she found a large contingent of area residents passionate about the same thing. Argus owners Kathy Sample and Bill Brinkerhoff opened their books and shared their staff's expertise.
"There were so many meetings, so many people," says Sharon Norton, another founder, of the two years it took to plan Agricole and secure its funding. "It was very tenuous," she says. But Norton, who'd worked with U-M on a feasibility study in her hometown of Jackson with the hopes of opening a store like Argus, was confident Chelsea could
support it. "It has to have a certain location that makes it work--and Chelsea is it," she says.
Hurst and Norton joined Sylvan Twp. residents Patrick Zieske and Kathy Kennedy to found Agricole--which means "agriculture" in French--as a low-profit limited liability company (L3C) that puts social benefit before profit. The four put up their own money, raised more from investors, and ran a crowdfunding campaign to match a grant from the Michigan Economic Development Corporation. "We're talking about razor-thin margins, because so much is going to the farms," says Hurst. "So, people are investing in this because they care."
They will open with about sixty local producers, with more accepted on a rolling basis. The cafe will serve pastries from Lakehouse Bakery, and coffees and teas. A 300-square-foot kitchen area with a customer counter is for lease--Hurst is looking "for the right fit"--and Stone House Oven, a custom shortbread cookie company, will rent space in the back.
Brogan Darwin, who worked for Argus in Ann Arbor for three years and grew up in Chelsea, moved back to the area to be Agricole's store manager. One of the best parts of her job at Argus was "witnessing the community connections that were made ... coffee and tea are a great excuse to get to know friends and neighbors," Darwin says. She'll offer a free cup of coffee to producers when they stop by to drop off their goods and hopes they'll stick around to chat with customers.
Agricole Farm Stop, 110 Jackson St. (corner of Main), Chelsea. Planned opening June 20. Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-7 p.m., Sat.-Sun. 8 a.m.-6 p.m. agricolefarmstop.com.
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