by Stephen Howe
A new locally-sourced food market and café expected to open up on North Main Street later this spring has a vision for community involvement.
The Local Food Market and Whole Heart Café will be moving into the former Cortland Hardware location on 37 N. Main St., with an anticipated opening sometime before the end of June.
The store will be owned by Chastity Mydlenski, who also owns the Oh My Goodness Health Food Store in Homer, and Sheila Cohen.
The café’s name was announced on Saturday and is being billed as Cortland’s first local food café. Using locally sourced produce and supplies, the café expects to offer breakfast and lunch fare, as well as a juice bar.
Also on the menu will be gluten-free choices and selections for those with food allergies or restrictive diets.
Café manager Sara Le Roux-Watrous said that community input will help to shape the menu offerings, though choices will be determined by available products, so there will be seasonal selections.
“The demand for local products has grown,” Le Roux-Watrous said. “It’s part of a bigger, national movement. We’re just making sure Cortland is on the same page.”
In addition to seeking the advice of the community, the café will also be looking for some financial support, as well. Le Roux-Watrous said that beginning Feb. 14 there will be a crowdsourcing effort online, where the public is asked for contributions, to raise $15,000 to ensure the café and market are able to open at the same time.
While Le Roux-Watrous believes the café can be successful, the cost of local goods, to be sold at a competitive price, will eat into their earnings compared to other local eateries.
“We’re not going to have the same profit margins,” Le Roux-Watrous said.
The city Common Council approved a $170,000 community development loan for the market in September.
Mydlenski said the café will be built into the market as part of remodeling efforts in the 7,000-square foot space. Renovations include replacing the ceiling, updating the bathrooms, new lighting and windows.
There will also be a community room that will host wellness classes and be a meeting space, with catering provided by the café. Mydlenski said that space will be another way to help educate the community about eating healthy and locally.
While there’s an advantage to having an accessible location, Mydlenski said that the old Cortland Hardware store represents even more to her.
“The building is meaningful to me, too,” Mydlenski said. “Going into a space that was Ginny (Toomeys)’s old space; she was very excited.”
Toomey purchased Cortland Hardware from her sister, Mary Lou Snyder, in 1987 and operated it until it closed in 2012.
Mydlenski said taking over the space that housed a woman-owned business for so long, and could have been left vacant, made it more important.
In addition to outreach and education, the new market and café will also generate five or six jobs. Mydlenski said more employees could be hired once there is a better understanding of the traffic the store will expect to see.
The hope is the market and café will help in efforts to revitalize downtown Cortland by adding a unique, dynamic element.
“We’re so excited to be downtown,” Le Roux-Watrous said. “People should be able to walk to a grocery store downtown.”
Mydlenski echoed the sentiment and said she believes the grocery store and café will bring some new business to downtown.
The market will be a full grocery store with more fresh produce offerings than the Homer location, with a broader selection of naturally sourced foods, including meat and dairy products. Mydlenski said she intends for the store to meet the Women, Infant and Children program requirements, so mothers in the city can use their benefits.