ELY — Monday will be a bittersweet day for the 105-year-old Zup’s Food Market in Ely.
It will be the last day for customers to shop at the store “on the top of the hill.” Once 7 p.m. rolls around, the doors will be locked to patrons at the current Sheridan Street location.
However, that closing will mark the beginning of a new era for the Ely store, which is moving into a new, much larger space not far down the road.
“It will be a happy but sad moment” in the long history of the store, established in 1916, said Jim Zupancich Jr.
Zup’s has operated at the Ely hilltop site for 38 years. “It’s hard to do, but it’s time to move ahead,” he said by phone from the Ely store.
Zupancich Brothers Inc., a fourth-generation family business that owns five Zup’s stores in northeastern Minnesota, purchased Ely’s former Shopko building in December 2020, further acquiring the town’s only other grocery store, the Ely Northland Market.
The partnership will result in one large grocer to better serve the community. “It’s a really nice grocery store,” Zupancich said.
He expects the new Zup’s will open sometime in November. Currently, the company is dealing with nationwide supply chain shortages affecting both goods and renovation efforts, he said.
The new 32,000-square-foot location will double the size of the current 17,000-square-foot store and house both a liquor store and pharmacy. A dry goods section with non-food items, including clothing, is also planned.
The Shopko building has been vacant since the corporation closed all of its stores in June 2019 after filing for bankruptcy. When Shopko closed, Ely lost half of its pharmacy services.
Work began earlier this year on the $7 million renovation project. Zupancich Brothers Inc., received a grant of more than $270,000 from Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation, used in part “to fund demolition,” Zupancich said. Large sections of the concert floor had to be removed to install refrigeration and water lines.
Zup’s famous sausage kitchen, known for its smoked-on-site meats, will move to the new store. It will also feature specialty items from the Ely Northland Market, said Donna Richards, who has owned the market with husband, Jim, since 2003.
“We are excited to be part of the new store and to continue to serve the people of Ely,” she said by phone. Product lines from each grocer will be featured at the “one-stop-shop.”
About 90 employees between the two stores will go to work at the new store. “We could probably use 20 more,” Zupancich said.
After Monday, some of Zup’s employees will temporarily move to the Ely Northland Market; others will assist with labor at the new location, such as stocking products.
“This is a big undertaking — the biggest we’ve ever done,” Zupancich said.
In 1916, John Zupancich — known as “Grandpa John” — bought the original market from Ely grouchier Frank Jenko. It was located directly across the street from the current store.
Grandpa John and his sons, Joseph, Eddie, Ludwig, Bill, Leonard, Albert and John Jr., operated the business and launched the “old world” sausage selection that has become so popular among patrons.
Prior to purchasing the store, Grandpa John had spent years making sausages for friends and family members. He started offering the homemade deli meats at the business, and soon customers began flocking to the market to buy the tasty delicacies.
The business, and well-known meat selection, grew through the years. Customer favorites still include smoked beef jerky, smoked polish sausages and blood sausage.
The store’s sampling tradition also began years ago, when large pieces of heated homemade Zup’s baloney were put out every Thursday at the store. Thursdays at the Zup’s markets became known as “hot baloney day.”
Those traditions will continue at Ely’s “one big store.” The Zupancich family also owns stores in Babbitt, Tower, Silver Bay, and Cook.
“Our family has been serving our customers over the last 105 years, and they have been supporting us for 105 years,” Zupancich said.
With the new store — and collaboration with the Ely Northland Market — “we hope they support us for another 105 years.”