New grocery retailer to deliver contemporary groceries and union jobs to Aurora

The Aurora Market will bring fresh produce and meat, including the owners’ famous porketta roast, as well as around 15 to 20 jobs to the community of around 1,600 residents. The approximately 8,500 square meter shop is located in the heart of the city center at 315 N. Main St. in a former union hall.

Aurora, about 60 miles north of Duluth, hasn’t had a grocery store since early 2016. Zup’s grocery store served Aurora for around 40 years, but struggled in 2001 when LTV Steel closed its Taconite facility near Hoyt Lakes and cut 1,400 jobs, according to a 2016 News Tribune report.

Aurora has not had a grocery store since early 2016 when Zup’s grocery store closed. The building is empty and for sale. (Steve Kuchera / [email protected])

Since then, Aurora residents have had only a dollar general and a Lucky Seven general store for their groceries – and nowhere to buy fresh produce or meat.

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Aurora Mayor Doug Gregor said “residents’ dreams will be answered”.

“Hardly a day goes by without one of our citizens asking me: ‘When will we get a new grocery store?'” Said Gregor.

Aurora residents usually travel to nearby towns like Biwabik or Hoyt Lakes to buy groceries. A location in the city for these needs is important for residents, he said.

Behind the Aurora Market is a group of local Iron Rangers: Tony and Mollie Fragnito, Ben DeNucci and Jim Miklausich.

Aurora Market will be Nashwauk Market’s sister business, and both will be owned by East Range Market LLC. The Fragnitos and DeNucci acquired a grocery store over two years ago when the former owner of Nashwauk Market retired.

Tony Fragnito was also inspired to start the Nashwauk Market by his mother, who is over 70 years old. Fragnito said he didn’t want his mother to drive dozens of kilometers to buy her groceries.

Once opened, the Aurora Market will have some similarities to the Nashwauk Market. One of them is Nashwauk’s special porketta – a variant of the Italian porchetta dish that is made with pork shoulder. After purchasing the market, Tony Fragnito learned that the store’s porketta recipe was one they had received from his great-aunt.

The Aurora site will also stock items for customers looking for gluten-free, keto-friendly, and other special dietary foods, Fragnito said.

“We’re trying to help the customer. When someone wants us to try to bring something in, we usually try to do it when we can get it,” he said.

Fragnito and its business partners already have experience in the Aurora market. The Nashwauk store delivers groceries to the community weekly and they sold their porketta at the local farmers market this summer, Fragnito said.

Business at the farmers’ markets is uninterrupted even in the pouring rain.

“It was fun because we were welcome,” said Fragnito.

Fragnito plans to employ up to 20 union workers in the shop and said the shop will pay homage to the building’s former tenants: union workers.

“There is nowhere in the world … stronger than the iron chain,” he said.

Gregor hopes the grocery store will help revitalize the inner city. These types of businesses usually bring more traffic, he said.

“This is exactly what our business world needs,” said Gregor.

Looking ahead, Fragnito sees the business meeting a future need when the proposed PolyMet copper-nickel mine opens nearby.

“If you add that, where are these people going to live? Where are these people going to shop? … They have to go to Virginia or Duluth,” he said.

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