Astoria Food Hub raises $700,000 for Sears building
It only took about two weeks for the partners behind the Astoria Food Hub to raise the $700,000 necessary to complete the purchase of the former Sears Hometown Store.
The partners, who reached the fundraising milestone Sunday, plan to renovate the former appliance store on Marine Drive into a retail, processing, storage and distribution hub for local food producers. They hope to open in the fall.
The food hub raised the money through Steward, a commercial lender that gathers money to cover the cost of the loan from public investors who earn back principal and interest. Jared Gardner, the owner of Nehalem River Ranch and a central partner in the project, said the $700,000 would be paired with around $120,000 invested by the partners.
“That takes us through the down payment, and all of permits, historic review,” Gardner said. “We have some engineering fees. It gets us all the way to the fully submitted documents to the city, so we can then line up the next phase, which will be the construction costs.”
Warren Neth, who markets for Gardner’s ranch and the food hub, said 164 people joined the loan with a minimum investment of $100 to more than $20,000 by some contributors. Much of the support came from people with money in savings who wanted to earn a higher interest rate from a cause they support, he said.
“It was that smaller-level investor that kind of carried the weight of the investment, of the loan,” Neth said.
Gardner said the partners expect to close on the building in the coming weeks and take a short break before releasing conceptual drawings of the food hub and beginning a second round of fundraising to build out the retail shop, cold storage and commercial kitchen.
The food hub has garnered interest in part from the dire need for more local cold storage space.
The North Coast Food Web runs a weekly market for local producers that has surged in demand during the coronavirus pandemic. Jessika Tantisook, the food web’s executive director, said the group is contemplating an expansion into the Sears building because of the synergy and need for more cold storage.
Jeff Graham, the executive chef at Fort George Brewery, buys beef and pork from Gardner. Graham wants a local space to make and store items such as charcuterie.
Gardner rents cooler space in Portland, where he has to travel each time Fort George or other clients need more of his products. Future phases of the food hub include expanded cold storage in the building’s basement to meet demand. Gardner said the group wanted to start smaller and scale up over time.
“It’s more responsible to build appropriately rather than just kind of swing for it,” he said.
One of the partners in the food hub is Tre-Fin Day Boat Seafood from Ilwaco, Washington. The hyperlocal catcher-processor raised $260,000 through Steward for a new processing space. Gardner said he sees power in the model, giving the community the ability to invest in and see a financial return from projects.
“I personally want my customers to be invested, and for investors to become customers,” Gardner said. “Because that’s really what keeps money circling in our community. If we’re going to pay interest to somebody, I’d like to be paying a community that supports what we’re doing.”
People interested in supporting the Astoria Food Hub can sign up at astoriafoodhub.com to be a part of future rounds of fundraising.