Government & Politics  February 24, 2016

Cheese Importers nears OK to buy its building from Longmont

LONGMONT — Cheese Importers, which has been leasing Longmont’s former municipal power plant since 2012, is one city council vote away from buying the building outright.

Willow River Properties LLC, the company owned by brother and sister Samm and Clara White that owns the fine-foods retailer, gift shop and French boutique café, will pay the city $901,750 to buy the 85-year-old brick building and surrounding land at 103 N. Main St. if the council gives final approval on second reading March 15.

The council approved the sale on first reading at its meeting Tuesday night.

“This was a discussion and negotiation back at the inception of the lease,” Samm White told BizWest on Wednesday. “It had been our goal for a number of years to control our own destiny. We had invested so much improvements at our previous place” — at one end of an industrial building at 33 S. Pratt Parkway — “and then to be told that our lease was up and with four months’ notice we had to be out of there, we didn’t want to go through that again.”

The Whites have been paying the city $4,833 a month to lease Cheese Importers’ current home, a red brick building that was built in 1931 and served for the next 38 years as the city’s electricity-generating plant. From 1979 to 1986, it was a workshop and storage space for the city’s sanitation department, and the Longmont Museum used it for storage from 1998 to 2012.

The sale of the building was seen as a win-win for the city and the business, Samm White said.

“We stay close with a number of members of council and city staff, and they had let us know they were interested in selling sooner than later,” he said. “They wanted to recoup the costs of building a new storage space for the museum.”

Meanwhile, the Whites spent $664,250 in improvements to the building while they’ve been leasing it and paid $16,000 in building permit fees, according to a city staff report.

“We had invested a lot of money in fixing it up. We’ve put in well over what the city’s appraised value of the building is. We had a lot of surprises, because it’s a super old building. A lot of reworks, appraisals, cleaning. A lot of backtracks and hiccups,” Samm White said. “I’ve personally invested every bit of savings I’ve had into this, and we’re looking to recoup and getting the business a little more stable.”

An appraisal completed in June valued the property at $1.55 million, and the staff report said Cheese Importers draws more than 80,000 people a year, generating more than three times the city and state sales-tax revenue than it did at its former location.

The city and its historic-preservation entity have been “just very helpful,” Samm White said.

Once Willow River owns the building outright, he said, more improvements will be forthcoming to the business started by his parents in 1976; he and Clara worked there as children.

“We’re constantly evolving and dreaming, and never quite relaxed with what we’re doing as a business,” Samm White said. He envisions a wood-fired outdoor pizza oven and grilling station, an iron conservatory-type structure to make the back patio a four-season area, and a larger greenhouse to grow fruits, vegetables and herbs year-round.

“We bring an element of magic and high class,” he said. “We want to do more of that.”

LONGMONT — Cheese Importers, which has been leasing Longmont’s former municipal power plant since 2012, is one city council vote away from buying the building outright.

Willow River Properties LLC, the company owned by brother and sister Samm and Clara White that owns the fine-foods retailer, gift shop and French boutique café, will pay the city $901,750 to buy the 85-year-old brick building and surrounding land at 103 N. Main St. if the council gives final approval on second reading March 15.

The council approved the sale on first reading at its meeting Tuesday night.

“This was a discussion and negotiation back at…

Dallas Heltzell
With BizWest since 2012 and in Colorado since 1979, Dallas worked at the Longmont Times-Call, Colorado Springs Gazette, Denver Post and Public News Service. A Missouri native and Mizzou School of Journalism grad, Dallas started as a sports writer and outdoor columnist at the St. Charles (Mo.) Banner-News, then went to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch before fleeing the heat and humidity for the Rockies. He especially loves covering our mountain communities.
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