Gentle Strength is moving Co-op will take up residence near Southern and Mill

Betty Beard The Arizona Republic Dec. 15, 2005 12:00 AM

Gentle Strength Co-Op, a pioneer in the Valley's natural and organic foods movement, has selected a new location southeast of Southern and Mill avenues in Tempe and plans to move there in late July.

After a search of at least 15 Tempe sites, the one in the Valley Fair shopping center at Southern and Mill emerged as the best because it's more visible from the street, has at least 36,000 vehicles a day passing by and is only a half mile from U.S. 60, said Russell Lowes, general manager of Gentle Strength.

"The traffic is at the perfect level," Lowes said. "You get more than that, and you get gridlock problems. And you get less than that, and you don't get that much business."

Plus, customers won't have to fight the congestion around Arizona State University.

He especially liked the proximity to U.S. 60, since a recent marketing study showed that 47 percent of the co-op's customers come from throughout the Valley.

"We have a ton of customers in Scottsdale, an unbelievable number. Even though it's farther now, they will be able to hit the (Loop) 101 and get to us in two-thirds the time," Lowes said.

The new site is about 2 miles away from the current location at 234 W. University Drive. If Lowes gets his way, the Tempe co-op could open other stores in the Phoenix area.

"I will recommend to the board that it build another store . . . within a few years. I would like to see several stores," he said. "I think the Phoenix area could take as many as 12 because such high-quality-type natural foods stores are very much in demand."

Gentle Strength has been in Tempe for 32 years but sold its current home to make way for a high-end condo tower. The co-op is open to anyone but gives discounts to members.

The natural foods field has been attracting a growing number of companies, including Henry's Farmers Markets, Sprouts Farmers Markets, Sunflower Market and Trader Joe's. Even Chandler-based Bashas' is entering the market with an Ike's Farmers Market coming to Phoenix next year.

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