High Value, Chapter 5: Pre-Submission Meeting

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Nancy Hjerne was the last to arrive at city hall, going there directly from the middle school she worked at after her day ended. As a teacher, she would be the first to say that her workday never really ended, but she could drive out of the school parking lot after the traffic from parents picking up their kids had cleared, and still make it to a meeting at city hall by 4 p.m.

When she walked in the room, the long table was arranged with Keith Nair and Justin Stark on one side, and a bald man wearing a sweater and loose sport coat on the other. He had blue eyes and he stood up, straight and confident, smiling at her when she walked in.

“Hi, I’m Brad Riese,” the new man said, extending a hand. He was good looking, in an urban professional kind of way. “I’m with Prosperity Unlimited. Thank you for taking the time to meet with me.”

“Thank you. I’m Nancy Hjerne. It’s always nice when people take advantage of a pre-submission meeting to talk things through before we get too far into the process,” Hjerne replied, suggesting optimism that everyone would ultimately be on the same team.

“Nancy is the vice-chair of the planning commission,” Nair added, as Hjerne took a seat on the city side of the table, trying to not let her annoyance show.

Hjerne had once been the chair and Nair the vice-chair, but Freehet and Ekte had joined to put Nair in charge. Bare had voted for him, too, and, so as not to appear petty, Hjerne had agreed with her colleagues and voted Nair in, as well. He might technically have the gavel, but everyone knew it was she that set the agenda.

“So, Paul, can you run through the proposal for Keith and Nancy?” Stark asked.

“Absolutely. Thank you.”

Riese unrolled a set of construction plans. “High Value Grocery” was written in large font across the front. There was silence while Riese turned the plans around to face the city officials, centering things so they could all get a look.

“Prosperity Unlimited has entered into an agreement with the Kramer family to purchase their vacant lot with the intent of developing it,” Riese began. “We have a client who wishes to construct a High Value grocery store on the site. I am going to assume that you are all familiar with High Value.”

Hjerne nodded along with her colleagues, but it was difficult for her not to feel like a small-town hick. One of many things she gave up moving from a major city to Chippewa Lakes was the shopping. For a foodie like her, it was especially painful to go to Klein’s Family Grocery and choose between, for example, four types of breakfast cereal or only two types of salad dressing. A High Value would be a tremendous improvement to her quality of life and mental wellness.

Despite everyone in attendance clearly being familiar with the High Value grocery chain, Riese proceeded as if they were completely ignorant. Hjerne didn’t mind.

“High Value is the premiere grocer in the region. They have fresh produce brought in every weekday, with a wide portion of it organically grown. There is a fully stocked deli, along with a certified butcher on site. High Value sells only ethically raised and processed meats and, where they can, they source it locally. They carry all the brand name foods sophisticated shoppers demand, and occasionally stuff they have not even thought of.”

Hjerne wanted to ask about their selection of seafood, but restrained herself. There would be plenty of time to find out. And it had to be better than the seafood at Klein’s, which was either breaded, frozen, and sold with the French fries, or too scary to ponder eating.

Riese continued. “As with all High Value groceries, this store will have a complete bakery, with freshly baked breads and pastries produced daily. And because it is part of the High Value Network of stores, local residents will have the ability to custom order cakes, cookies, and other baked goods for special events.”

When Hjerne’s daughter, Olivia, graduated from high school, Mr. Hjerne was called upon to make a two-hour round trip to pick up proper hors d’oeuvres for the graduation party. There was no way they were serving pulled pork and light beer to their guests, as most of Olivia’s classmates had. Unbelievable! At least when Olivia got married, she did so in a city large enough to have real food catered in.

“This particular High Value store is planned to be the newest model, incorporating not only the high-quality food people expect from High Value Grocery, but also the lifestyle amenities people have come to expect as part of the modern shopping experience. There will be a floral and gift shop which is, again, part of a national network of florists. There is a pharmacy with a licensed pharmacist on staff during normal business hours. And, my favorite, for those hard-working moms,” (he looked at Hjerne), “or dads, there will be a Starbucks coffee shop with couches, tables, and a big screen television.”

Hjerne had a brief mental image of boorish men watching the football game while drinking black coffee, but quickly moved on to picture herself walking the wide aisles with a Honey Oatmilk Latte in her hand. There had been days in Chippewa Lakes when Hjerne thought she’d be willing to kill for a Starbucks. Now that one was finally within reach, she could see herself frequenting it to the point where she might have to get a Peloton!

“Obviously, this is a significant and transformative investment in Chippewa Lakes. My client is eager to make this investment and excited to work with you. We are not asking for any handouts or subsidies, although I do understand there may be a couple of minor zoning-related issues we need to work through.”

Out of the corner of her eye, Hjerne saw Nair perk up at the mention of zoning issues. She frowned.

“In total,” Riese continued, “my client is prepared to make a $6-million investment in this community. In doing so, my client plans to create 12 full-time and up to 40 part-time jobs. That is in addition to the dozens of temporary construction jobs a project like this will create. My plan is to work through your process in a respectful way, with the goal of being open by Memorial Day.”

If Hjerne were the sole decision-maker, she would authorize the project right then and there, regardless of any zoning issues. In her mind, the arrival of High Value could not happen soon enough.

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