Owner McKenzie would like to triple the size of his store.
Against all marketing odds, a residential corner a couple of blocks off Atwood Avenue has proved to be the perfect spot to grow a thriving grocery store called Jenifer Street Market.
The store recently celebrated its 35th anniversary, despite not being on a major street and being a little hard to find.
"We're in a location that has no traffic flow," says owner Steve McKenzie. "[Customers] either live in the immediate area or they make it a destination, and then you have to know how to get here."
McKenzie attributes his success to his nearby customers. "It's a great neighborhood," he says. "It has a highly educated clientele that really likes food and likes to cook and entertain."
Despite that long track record of success, McKenzie says he's contemplating moving the store to the 1800 block of East Washington Avenue, a few blocks away.
"In order to keep a store for a very long time, you've got to eventually buy the property," he says. "Plus, I would like to triple the size of the store."
The 10,000-square-foot building is currently owned by neighboring Schoep's Ice Cream, which is not interested in selling, McKenzie says. So he is eying the Marling Lumber property, which is up for sale, for a mixed-use development that would be anchored by his store. McKenzie would change the name -- "I don't think it would be good to call it Jenifer Street Market and have it be somewhere other than Jenifer Street" -- but won't reveal the leading candidates.
If McKenzie gets his way, his development would feature a grocery store on the ground floor, some retail on the second or third floors and apartments above that.
"There's terrific views of the Capitol," he says of the spot. "If you get higher than three stories, you get terrific views of the two lakes."
McKenzie says having room to grow and being close to the customers who have supported him all these years make the site attractive. He is currently seeking investors for the project, which he expects will take a least a couple of years to realize.
The East Washington area is also being considered as a location for a Madison public market. Although he's not entirely opposed to working in tandem with a public market, McKenzie does worry about the competition. "They can operate for decades at a deficit," says McKenzie, who also feels the public market is a bad use of tax funds.
Dan Kennelly, an economic development specialist for the city, says the plan is for the market to be self-sustaining. "The idea isn't that it would require an ongoing subsidy."
Neighbors around the East Washington Avenue corridor have long wanted a full-service grocery store, and now they could be in line for several options. In addition to the public market and possible Jenifer Street Market, Gebhardt Development is building a Festival Foods grocery in the 800 block of East Washington.
Some argue that a public market can complement traditional grocers.
"There are a lot of public markets where there are individual vendors with stalls selling things, but there's sometimes an anchor that's a full-service grocery store," Kennelly says.
Ald. Marsha Rummel agrees. "[The market] is going to have multiple uses and benefits that hopefully won't detract from conventional grocery stores," she says. "We do know that people shop at more than one location. They go to Jenifer Street Market, the [Willy Street] Co-op and Woodman's, depending on their needs."
The council voted Tuesday night to begin working on a formal operating plan for the public market, but a specific location is still unknown.
"For now, the recommendation is pretty loosey-goosey," says Kennelly, noting that a committee recommended the area of East Washington Avenue near the Yahara River. One possible site is the Marling Lumber property that McKenzie is considering. But the market could also go across the street.
Either way, the market is far from a done deal, and some council members are dead set against it, including Ald. David Ahrens, who notes that the city is contemplating the largest budget in its history.
"This is just not a core service that the city has to provide, and that's what we have to look at now -- core services," says Ahrens, who also questions the market's viability. "People aren't going to be driving in from Waukesha to buy some handmade potato chips. We already have the biggest public market in the United States, which is the Saturday [farmers'] market, which exists half the year."
But Rummel remains a fan of the concept, which she says is about boosting the city's food supply and economy. "There's a need to grow our regional food assets," she says. "We create so much stuff here, and a lot of it goes to waste."