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Mar 29, 2017 02:37PM

Cultivating change: Food Hub remodeled for self-sustaining future


Allie Arnell
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Meg McLaughlin/mmclaughlin@qconline.com
Food Hub employees Liz Hogan and Hannah Clark, both natives of Moline, check in as they work the floor Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017 in Davenport. After three weeks of interior remodel work, the Quad Cities Food Hub in Davenport is once again open for business.
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The Quad Cities Food Hub's recent renovations go beyond a fresh coat of paint.

After a three-week interior remodel at the Food Hub in Davenport, the store features a new layout, an upgraded cash register and more space for classes. It reopened for business in mid-January.

Located in the Freight House, at 421 W. River Drive, the QC Food Hub is a nonprofit organization that works to connect local producers with local consumers. Operations manager Liz Hogan says she hopes the remodel will encourage more community participation.

The new layout dedicates an entire room to the Food Hub's Education Center, which offers classes on cooking, gardening, crafts and sustainability. Class sizes have tripled during the past two years, Hogan says, with some classes as large as 20 or 30 students. The bigger space will accommodate the Education Center's growing role in Food Hub operations.

The store also gained a more modern cash register, which will help employees track inventory and sales. Now, weekly inventories can be completed with ease, and the Food Hub can identify high-theft items and protect their consignors' products.

The store's updated layout has been praised because it is more open and better organized. "People love the bright colors," Hogan says. "And it's easier to shop."

Customers say the new laminate wood-panel flooring makes the space look longer and wider, she says.

The renovations were the Food Hub's first since it opened in 2012. "It felt like a borrowed space," says Food Hub marketing and funds development coordinator Kristin Fairchild. "We never really had the chance to make it our own."

Now, Fairchild says, they've really "owned" the space by "making it fit" with what they offer. "It looks clean, it looks fresh and it looks like we have a vision, which we do — and that's to highlight our local vendors," Fairchild says.

Each upgrade was dreamed up and planned out by the staff and the board of directors. Funding for the remodel (and for the Food Hub's operations) comes from a federal grant to create jobs and support local commerce. With this in mind, the Food Hub staff wanted to make every penny count. Most of the updates were done by Food Hub employees, which provided the staff with continued employment during the renovation period.

Aid from the grant is set to end in September. When that time comes, the Food Hub hopes it will have been able to increase its sales enough to be self-sustaining.

Revamped marketing efforts aim not only to increase in-store sales, but also sales from the Education Center and events, and commercial sales through a new virtual market. In-store products will be offered online, as well as wholesale and bulk products directly from farmers.

For instance, through the website, "we'll be able to buy a thousand pounds of sweet potatoes from a farmer and sell it online to restaurants and community members," Hogan says.

"We're in the sign-up phase now for this type of service," Fairchild adds. "So far, we've had a lot of local restaurants that have expressed interest."

The Food Hub also hopes to expand its grower's choice program, or food subscription box service. Participants receive weekly a selection of fresh produce and sometimes dairy and baked goods. A new walk-in cooler will make it possible for the Food Hub to increase the number of people who may sign up for this service.

In addition, the Food Hub also looks forward to increased collaboration with the entire Freight House marketplace. Surrounding businesses such as the Freight House Farmers' Market, Front Street Brewery and Fresh Deli share similar goals and values with the Food Hub. Fairchild says she hopes to use these connections to build up the local economy.

Each of the Food Hub's forward strides are in effort to continue to support local farmers, she says.

"Hopefully when the grant is gone, the added programs and the added benefit of the new space will let us maintain enough profits to continue through the future."
Contributor Allie Arnell is a writer on staff with the Dispatch•Argus•QCOnline.




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