A little over a year ago, Big Hollow Food Co-Op was opening the doors of its newly transformed space on Second Street.
Also known as the Empress lot, over the span of almost eight years the downtown lot went through a transformation from historic theater to a vacant lot to, finally, Big Hollow’s new building with the help and shared vision of the city of Laramie’s staff, the Laramie Main Street Alliance and Big Hollow.
“I think this project is something that our entire community should be proud of,” said Trey Sherwood, executive director of Main Street.
The project hit a major milestone Tuesday as the Laramie City Council approved the transfer of interest of the quitclaim deed and bill of sale for the building to Main Street as part of its consent agenda. Although the project is seemingly now finished and tied with a pretty bow, both Big Hollow General Manager Marla Peterson and Sherwood said the work is by no means slowing down for the new building.
“It’s funny because we are definitely tying a bow, but we’re also opening up a whole new era, too,” Peterson said. “There will be more development to come this year, sooner rather than later.”
Peterson said she knows customers and residents are anxious to hear what’s in store for the building’s second-floor mezzanine, but all details remain shrouded in secrecy for now.
Meanwhile Main Street is still moving forward with the vision to create apartment space on the third floor of the building. Citing a recent city housing study calling for more housing downtown, Sherwood said Main Street and Big Hollow are collaborating to figure out the feasibility of costs, function and visions for the space. She said it was important to Main Street to have “Big Hollow’s perspective, Marla’s perspective as a tenant on what that top floor use should be so it’s complimentary.”
“Then we’re not developing something that detracts from what’s going on at Big Hollow,” Sherwood added.
The new space has given Big Hollow a chance to feature more product lines, fresh food options and produce, and Peterson said the store has seen some great growth since it moved to the new space.
“It’s been really well received by the community,” she said. “I’m so proud of this project.”
She added the co-op, which is owned by its customers, has seen around a 25% increase in sales and a 30% increase in staff from last year, even without the secretive projects to come.
Reflecting on the years-long project, Sherwood said it all started as a “shared vision” that grew into a reality thanks to collaboration between the city, Main Street and Big Hollow with the help of a grant from the Wyoming Business Council.
“To really dream big and play the role of developer and not wait for some private entity to do it, but to grassroots, bootstrap it ourselves and to get the support from the Wyoming Business Council to do something that was outside the box — it was amazing,” Sherwood said.
Although the project is winding down, Sherwood said Main Street wants to “keep building on that energy and momentum” and use what they’ve learned to help revitalize other parts of downtown.
The success story has been so contagious it even garnered national attention from other cities and towns during this year’s national Main Street conference. Sherwood said Main Street has received calls from other city’s looking to for advice on their own downtown empty lots or holes.
“There are countless downtowns that are going through various stages of revitalization and almost everybody has a hole, whether it’s through fire or neglect,” Sherwood said. “Being able to repeat that again in our community is really exciting, but also being able to be a cheerleader for other communities that care so deeply about their downtown and share what we learned is really rewarding.”