Northside Cub returns with a new model of grocery store

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MINNEAPOLIS – At its lowest point, the Cub grocery store on Broadway Avenue in Minneapolis was a wreck.

The looters had cleared the shelves.

Smoke was floating in the air from the arson attacks.

Water from garbage and sprinklers flowed onto the floors.

Yet during one of the worst moments of his professional career, Mike Stigers, CEO of Cub, was having a déjà vu moment.

In 1992, Stigers worked for another grocery chain.

“I was the district manager in Los Angeles when the Rodney King civil unrest took place,” says the CEO.

Now, nearly 30 years after the Los Angeles riots and a year after the rehearsal in Minneapolis, Stigers stands in a shiny reopened Cub store, determined to create a new model for an urban grocery seller.

“I think everyone’s very busy doing what they’re doing,” Stigers says of the old way of doing business. “You think things are going well and you realize that they are not.”

So Stigers started to listen to the community.

The result is a series of changes first tried in a Twin Cities grocery store.

The most revolutionary of these is a new approach to loss management – what most people call shoplifting.

Over the past year, Stigers has forged both a friendship and a business relationship with Trahern Pollard, founder and CEO of the community group We Push for Peace.

Uniformed employees of the group now greet customers entering the store.

When someone is suspected of shoplifting, We Push for Peace takes care of the case – not the police.

“In the past, you know, you had grocery stores that called the police because someone was stealing a bag of chips,” Pollard says. “It’s not necessary.”

Instead, Pollard employees are trying to get to the root of the theft. Was the potential thief hungry? If so, We Push for Peace will help with resources – or just buy the person a meal.

Cub’s charity is not without limits.

Pollard said his employees are making sure the accused understands “it won’t be tolerated in this place, period.”

Police are always called in when needed, but Stigers says that most of the time that call is unnecessary.

“It just lowers the tension,” says the CEO of Cub. “It’s really the community that takes care of the community.”

Stigers said crime and police calls to the store were both down since the loss prevention change last August. Perhaps more revealing, Cub has expanded the partnership with We Push for Peace to its Uptown, Minnehaha, Midway, and Phalen locations in Minneapolis and St. Paul.

“I think this model can be used across the country,” Pollard says.

Stigers also drew on the expertise of Lisa Clemons and Donna Anderson of the nonprofit A Mother’s Love.

“They didn’t make any decisions, including the name on the building, without community buy-in and we made those suggestions,” Anderson says.

Stigers called on a gathering of community leaders to incorporate Broadway Avenue into the name. “And they all looked at each other, they said, ‘Mike, we’re the north side.’ So it’s like, “Alright, Cub Northside is,” “Stigers says.

Clemons and Anderson also convinced Stigers of the need for space for things like after-school tutoring, job training, programs for moms, and dating for seniors.

So Cub dug out a community hall in the store and then commissioned Northside artist Sean Phillips to paint his walls with murals.

“I’m 58 and I’ve never known a business, let alone a grocery store, invested in a community,” Anderson says.

Clemons nodded, saying, “They kept all of their promises.”

Stiger’s first promise was to keep the store open. Prior to the looting, the Northside Cub was owned by Jerry’s Enterprises, the same franchisee that owned the badly damaged Lake Street Cub store.

Jerry kept and rebuilt the Lake Street store, but sold the Northside property to the Cub Company.

“We never thought we would give up neighborhoods,” Stigers says.

In the days following the looting, Cub opened his parking lot to community groups who provided him with food. Cub then provided a coach to offer free rides to another of his stores.

Now murals painted by artists from the community decorate the airy and well-lit renovated store.

Behind the scenes, Cub also set up space for a food shelf distribution center.

The focus on community has not been lost on buyers.

As she unloaded her cart, Diane Upton cited both the remodel and representatives of We Push for Peace who greeted her at the door.

“They did a good job and they have to keep going,” she said.

Stigers says there is no turning back, believing the new model not only makes the community stronger, but also makes business sense.

The store has come a long way since the CEO investigated the destruction a year ago.

“It’s time for all of us to really look at what happened and say, ‘Okay, what have we learned from this and how can we improve? Stigers said. “So that it does not happen again.”

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