The new year begins with a new place for people who love good food and seek natural ways to a healthy life to gather, as Chautauqua Natural Foods opens the doors of its new store on Locust Street in Garberville on Wednesday, Jan. 2, 2013.

The old Masonic building has been transformed into a state-of-the-art natural health and foods store with a wider array of products and produce than ever before.

Chautauqua's current store on Church Street facing the Town Square will remain open -- or at least half-open -- as Café Minou. About half the old store will be closed for renovations, ultimately to re-open as what Chautauqua general manager Rio Anderson envisions as an “old-world style” deli, featuring dishes made from family recipes and tables where customers can enjoy their meals indoors.

Chautauqua Natural Foods has occupied its Church Street store since 1986. When construction of the Town Square began, Anderson and his mother, Peg Anderson, the owner and founder, were concerned that removing the parking lot to make way for the square would harm their business. So they began looking for creative ways to compensate.

Realtor Chris Brannan helped Anderson approach the Masonic organization to purchase the Masonic Hall in Garberville. They had to go through several levels of Masonic authority before the sale was approved approximately three years ago.

Trent Sanders, a close friend of Anderson's from their days at South Fork High School, who has developed properties and businesses in Shelter Cove, joined him to form the Sanderson Investment Group, LLC, which now manages the property.

The next step was going through the complicated and expensive process of rezoning the site to allow the store and four new apartments to be built above the store.

Finally, Anderson worked with Michael Taylor of Atlas Engineering in Arcata to design the apartments, and he hired a professional store planner from Minnesota to design the layout of the store itself.

Actual construction began approximately one year ago. Wood from the original Masonic building was re-used to the greatest extent possible, but all the wood in the building is recycled, Anderson said.

To meet modern fire codes, much of the original wood paneling had to be removed, sheetrock installed, and then the paneling was replaced. The original banisters and stairs were refurbished and now lead to the new business office and employee area behind the new big window at the front of the store.

Anderson is particularly happy with the office area, which will have four computers to assist full-time purchasers “really focus on competitive buying.”

Whenever possible, Chautauqua will source products, especially fresh food, locally or regionally from small companies. “We will get the best deals on the best products, and pass our savings to our customers,” Anderson said.

In preparation for the expansion, Chautauqua has hired new employees, including additional cashiers and a customer service representative who can help with special orders. When the full staff is on board, Chautauqua will have 26 employees, compared to 18 a year ago, Anderson said.

Part of the upstairs area is set aside as an employee kitchen with a “lunch bar” facing the window. Just past that is the manager's office. Use the lion's head knocker to gain admission to this inner sanctum, where the manager will sit behind the original desk from the Masonic building manager's office, backed by original shelving.

The new store enables Chautauqua to offer a much wider variety of products, including more fresh produce and other perishables in a wall of cold cases, as well as frozen foods. More space for cashier lines and wider aisles will make shopping easier, with snacks and a tempting array of organic chocolate right up front to capture impulse buying.

Work on the building was done by Humboldt County contractors. Dennis Huber did the woodworking in the office and employee spaces, Brian Harper helped with the doors to the cold storage area, Tyler Gooch made the sign over the parking area, Steve Dazey provided former postal carts for the dry produce display, and Anderson's aunt, Lorna Brown, painted a mural depicting a garden full of beneficial insects for the bathroom. 

Four 700-square foot apartments will be accessed through a private entrance with a locked gate on the Pine Street side of the building. Each apartment includes an open living space with fully equipped kitchen, breakfast bar, living and dining areas; a bedroom, a bathroom with shower, and a stacked washer and dryer.

All the apartments are well insulated and energy-efficient with skylights, propane wall heaters, and ceiling fans to distribute the heat. In the future Anderson hopes to install a 25-kilowatt solar system to take advantage of the building's excellent southern exposure.

One of the apartments also has a private deck, and in front of each of the others the walkway flares out to provide enough space for a small table and chairs. There is also a common patio for the residents, which will be furnished with picnic tables and a barbecue.

The mixed-use commercial/multi-family zoning required the owners to provide a small number of parking spaces, intended to be used by store customers during the day and residents at night after the store closes.

Market-rate rent will be charged for the apartments because income from the rent is expected to cover the owners' monthly payments for the building, Anderson explained.

Applications for renters are now being taken. “We've gotten more interest than we expected,” Anderson said, including inquiries from retired persons, employees of Garberville businesses, and rural residents who would like a town house. Anderson hopes to have the apartments ready for occupancy by February.

”We're looking for people with a stable income who want a simple small place in town and don't have a lot of stuff,” he continued. “We want to bring in people to be part of the town.”

Anyone interested in renting one of the apartments should write a letter explaining who they are, how many people are in their household, and why they want to live there. Letters can be brought to the store or mailed to Sanderson Investment Group, 783 Locust Street, Garberville 95542.