Residents of a Madison neighborhood were shocked to learn in early December that a 20-year-old local grocery store would be closing its doors. Ken Kopp, owner of Ken Kopp’s Fine Foods on Monroe Street, one of the last independent grocery stores in the city, announced he was retiring. Unable to find a buyer for the grocery business, Kopp planned to sell the property to a developer who intended to build a 14,000 square foot drive-through Walgreens.
It was bad news all around. Kopp’s had long been the neighborhood’s gathering spot. The local alderman referred to it as his second office. Walgreens, moreover, was a decidedly unwelcome addition to a neighborhood full of small, locally owned businesses, including two community pharmacies.
"This neighborhood offers the benefits of connection: to family, to neighbors, to community," notes Jane Riley of the Dudgeon-Monroe Neighborhood Association. A distant corporation like Walgreens, she contends, has no connection to the daily needs of the area.
Ken Kopp’s closing was soon the talk of the neighborhood and much of the city. It pushed the on-going presidential election off the front pages and drew numerous letters to the editor. One resident hung a "No Walgreens" banner on his fence.
The area’s two aldermen, Ken Golden and Matt Sloan, organized a neighborhood meeting. More than 350 people turned out. The meeting began with a review of the Walgreens proposal and ended with a discussion of possible alternatives.
After the meeting, three area neighborhood associations—Regent, Vilas, and Dudgeon-Monroe—formed a working committee to explore options for the site and coordinate a pledge drive. Neighbors have pledged $100,000 to date to fund an alternative development.
In February, Ken Kopp announced that the deal with the Walgreens developer was off. His decision was based on the sentiment of the neighborhood and concerns that the city would not approve Walgreens due to traffic issues.
Kopp is now accepting proposals to purchase and redevelop the site. He plans to make a decision by March 30.
One proposal involves expanding and moving the local library branch to the site. Other proposals would maintain the location for food retailing (the site has been home to a series of grocery stores since 1945). The owner of the former Madison Sourdough Company, for example, has suggested an emporium that would house several artisan food shops. Many in the neighborhood hope the site will be sold to the newly formed Monroe Street Grocery Cooperative.
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