FAIRMONT - The renovation of Hy-Vee in Fairmont took almost one year to be exact, with the store remaining open throughout the extensive process.
This week, employees and the community celebrated the project's completion.
"It's a huge relief for me and all our employees," said store director Nate Jaster, who was transferred to Fairmont to run the Hy-Vee here shortly before construction began.
FRESH?FOOD?— Hy-Vee store director Nate Jaster talks to local Chamber of Commerce business ambassadors as he gives a tour of the newly renovated Fairmont site, starting with the produce department.
"Honestly it went by really fast," he said. "There was just so much going on here. ... We redid basically every inch of the store, with the exception of one hallway in back."
On Thursday, Jaster gave a tour of the business to Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce business ambassadors. A ceremonial ribbon cutting also was held.
The tour began at the front entrance, which now provides a dramatically different viewpoint of the different departments the store has to offer, starting with an expanded produce section, a Caribou Coffee, and Italian and Chinese food buffets.
"There's a much more spacious feel when you come in," Jaster said, explaining that the purpose of the new layout is to prevent customers from feeling rushed the moment they walk in the door. That same idea was carried out throughout the building, and is particularly evident in the kitchen area, specialty cheese island, delicatessen, seafood section, and bakery - the bakery was formerly crammed behind the produce department, and the seafood, deli and cheeses were mixed in with the meat department.
In the newly added portion of the store, where the Dollar Tree and other businesses were formerly located, Hy-Vee was able to expand its meat and dairy departments, add the Health Market, and a pharmacy.
"Pharmacy is a competitive business, and there are a lot of pharmacies in this town, so it will take a little while to pick up," Jaster said.
Tucked away from customers' view on the second floor of the building are the administrative offices, employee break room and "the club room," which has a full kitchen and plenty of seating. The different store departments plan to use the club room for demonstrations to the public, as a way to advertise their services, and the store dietician will offer cooking classes. The room also will be available for rent.
The building's additional space has allowed the Fairmont store to bulk up on its products and also its employees. The site is now up to 240 workers, and it's not done growing.
"We've added at least 65 employees," Jaster said. "And we're still hiring. We still have openings in almost every department."
When the gas station is completed on the southeast corner of the property, Hy-Vee will have hired 80-some new employees, according to the store director. The convenience store is expected to be open for business by late September.
Hy-Vee has its own general contractor for its new construction and renovation projects, but much of the work was sub-contracted to local businesses, including Ankeny Builders of Blue Earth, DeWar Electric and Fairmont Glass & Sign, all of which Jaster said did a fantastic job putting Hy-Vee's customers first.
"It's been a challenge for everybody," he said. "One of the reasons it went so well is all our employees handled everything with an exceptional attitude."
The same is true, Jaster said, of the customers, who were patient and understanding as the renovations took place in front of them.
"I can't thank our customers enough for being loyal and hanging with us in the process," he said.
Of course, not everyone is bound to be pleased with all the changes at the store. The biggest complaint from customers was having to walk so far to get to the milk. To accommodate, the dairy department moved a cooler up to the front of the building.