Reconstruction of Zup's Food Market in Cook heading toward a start

Ice covers the badly damaged back section of Zup's Foods in Cook Tuesday morning. A far Monday night caused extensive damage to the back of the building and led to smoke and water damage to the rest of the store rendering it a total loss. According to company management the store which employees 40 people will be rebuilt.

Zup's Food Market in Cook will be rebuilt.

It's just a matter of time – and money.

Plans to rebuild the grocery store, destroyed in a November 2018 fire, are taking shape despite several challenges, according to Jim Zupancich, co-owner of Zupancich Brothers, Inc.

By late summer, Zupancich hopes to begin rebuilding the family-operated store. The new store would open in March 2020, said Zupancich.

We're still waiting for bids to come in, so it's hurry up and wait,” Zupancich said. “But we're not going to leave Cook without a store. We will be back.”

Construction costs are a major issue, said Zupancich.

“We were insured for replacement value and we thought it would be replacement value,” Zupancich said. “But building costs have gone up substantially in 20 years and it's four times the cost of what we thought it would be.”

As bids come in, company officials are also working with financial institutions to secure the best loan rates, said Zupancich.

“Our accountant has told us we have 'X' amount of dollars to build a store and 'X' amount of dollars for a monthly payment,” Zupancich said. “Our goal would be to go bigger, but we'll see what we can afford. We just don't want to build something that we can't pay for.”

Opening in 1998, Zup's was the only grocery store in the city when it burned. It served year-round residents for dozens of miles surrounding Cook. During summer, the store was a key shopping destination for visitors to Lake Vermilion and other nearby lakes.

“We miss being there,” said Zupancich. “It's a good community there and good people.”

Following the fire, safety measures were put into place immediately to provide food to vulnerable individuals who were unable to shop out of town, according to Theresa Martinson, city of Cook administrator-clerk/treasurer. A local delivery service was established through Zup's in Tower and local convenience stores have boosted inventories to help provide basic grocery items, she said.

“The city continues to communicate with all parties to support the project,” Martinson said.

When the store reopens, plans are to build a fully-featured modern food market, said Zupancich. A fresh deli with a wide variety of deli items is also planned, he said.

A $350,000 Minnesota Department of Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation grant to the city will help support rebuilding infrastructure to the new market.

State Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook and Rep. Rob Ecklund of International Falls, “have tried to help us out as much as they can,” said Zupancich.

City officials have also been instrumental in assisting, he said.

“Those people are on the ball,” said Zupancich of city officials.

Meanwhile, business has increased at the other end of Lake Vermilion, at Zup's Food Market in Tower, according to Zupancich.

“There's been a lot of people who live close to Tower who have been shopping there,” said Zupancich. “We greatly appreciate them.”

Zupancich Brothers, Inc., has been a family-run business since 1916.

“We've been in business 103 years,” said Zupancich. “And I hope my family goes 103 more.”

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