Aside from the current boom in downtown development and cosmetic enhancements made to existing properties, not much has changed in Knoxville in terms of either population growth or demographics in the past fifty years.
A census conducted in 1980, the year before Three Rivers Market first opened its doors to the public, looks nearly identical to the one taken just last year. It is unlikely, then, that anybody in the food cooperative’s initial ownership group ever envisioned a time in which the fledgling company would outgrow the cozy confines of its original Broadway location.
However, East Tennessee’s first and only consumer-owned food co-op has expanded to include more than 3,600 member-owners, with more being added each day. Consequently, the moment finally has arrived for the grocery to make the move from the tiny space it has occupied since its inception thirty years ago to a pristine, environmentally friendly new home a few blocks away at 1100 N. Central St.
Promoting social and environmental accountability is a central tenet of TRM, and the new facility is the embodiment of that principle. Consisting of an already existing, redeveloped edifice and a new building that triples the amount of available floor space, it offers customers a vastly improved shopping experience while featuring several elements that maximize energy conservation.
Katie Ries, Outreach and Marketing Director for TRM, credits Studio Four Design, the architectural firm responsible for constructing the facility, for taking TRM’s vision into account and incorporating it into every aspect of the design process.
Examples include a ribbon of glass along the ceiling that allows natural light to enter and which reduces the need for artificial lighting; energy-efficient electric and plumbing fixtures; refrigeration units that reuse the heat they generate; and minimal finishes that were made to the building’s interior so as to ensure indoor air quality. According to Ries, the facility, with all of its green flourishes, could qualify for LEED certification.
In order to take advantage of the wealth of new space, the grocery store has expanded some departments, created others and has augmented the number of services it offers.In addition to a much larger produce section and cases of fresh meats and cheeses, there are now exciting and enticing in-store delights from which to choose, as well.A full-service deli makes to-go food and stocks a grab-and-go cooler with sandwiches, small plates and drinks, but a hot-food bar, a salad bar and a sushi counter containing high-quality fish and organic rice are truly welcome additions for patrons wishing to dine on the premises. Ample seating is available both indoors and out, and Ries says that each outlet will emphasize “daily changing menus that feature delicious food for vegans, vegetarians and meat eaters.”
Fostering relationships with other local companies and producers in order to build a stronger community environment is an integral part of TRM’s business model. As Ries points out, this approach benefits the local economy because the profits “stay in our immediate area rather than passing to a large corporate headquarters in a distant part of the country, or in another country entirely.”
One such partnership is an exclusive arrangement with Knoxville Area Transit. As the only grocery store to take part in KAT’s Shop and Ride program, customers who spend a minimum of $10 in the store can earn a free bus ride home. On a side note regarding transportation, several bike racks (made primarily of recycled materials) line the entrance of the new store. Motorists, too, will rejoice in the fact that parking, notoriously limited at the old location, is ten times more than what was previously available.
Several factors have contributed to the burgeoning nationwide popularity in recent years of food co-ops like TRM. The last decade has witnessed an unprecedented and alarming rise in the United States in the rates of obesity and diabetes, particularly among children. Even before modifying eating habits, questioning how food is produced and from where it originates is an excellent first step toward diagnosing and correcting these problems.
There are definite health benefits to consuming fresh, local organic vegetables, grains, etc., and co-ops provide these items in bulk. Another obvious perk of eating locally produced food is that it simply tastes better.
“Foods grown in appropriate climates require less synthetic pesticides, herbicides and fertilizers to prop them up,” says Ries. Anyone who has bit into a December tomato from a mega-grocery store can tell you it’s a sad cry from the rich flavors of its hearty summer cousins.”
Since its humble beginnings thirty years ago, Three Rivers has strived to provide its customers with fresh, organic and all-natural food choices for the best value possible.
To commemorate its diamond anniversary and to educate the public about its mission and products, TRM will be hosting a grand opening celebration at the new store Oct. 13-16. Members will receive special pricing deals, and festivities will include product samples, vendor demonstrations, family-friendly activities and more. Local companies and organizations participating in cross-promotional events throughout the weekend include Harry’s Delicatessen, Tennessee Valley Bicycles, Magpies Bakery, Cruze Dairy and several other farms and entities.
The celebration will surely be a joyful time of reflection for anyone who has contributed to the success of TRM over the years, and the weekend will serve as an excellent opportunity for the uninitiated to experience the wide range of products and goods the co-op has to offer.