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Iron Range struggles bring about closure of city's only grocery store

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The continued downturn in the Iron Range mining industry has claimed another victim – but this time it's a grocery store.

KBJR reports that Zup's Food Market in Aurora will close next month, with owner Jim Zupancich – who has five other stores in the region – blaming the economic conditions affecting local industry.

The store employs 12 people and its closure will mean the city's 1,600-plus residents will have to travel 5 miles to Biwabik or Hoyt Lakes to get their groceries, which Mayor Mary Hess said will take a toll on the elderly.

"We have a big elderly population in Aurora and that's going to be tough on them, just as it was as the drug store closed," she told the TV station, referring to Aurora Drug and Variety – which was liquidated in August.

Zupancich told the Mesabi Daily News that his other stores in Ely, Cook, Tower, Babbitt and Silver Bay are performing well enough, but the Aurora outlet was hit not only by local job losses but also by the opening of a Walmart in Mountain Iron.

The newspaper notes that the Aurora area lost LTV Mining in 2000/2001 at the cost of 1,500 jobs, and then last year Mesabi Nugget furloughed workers as it announced a temporary, two-year closure.

"We did everything we could. We’ve really been fighting this since May," Zupancich told the newspaper. "It’s a terrible feeling. We feel like we failed the community .... and Aurora has been so good to us. We want to thank them for everything."

Hope in PolyMet?

Mayor Hess told WDIO that hope for the city comes in the form of the controversial PolyMet copper nickel mine project, which would see a processing plant built in Hoyt Lakes.

The project is currently going through the permitting process, with environmentalists objecting to it amid fears it could pollute the nearby Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area.

An environmental impact statement put together by the DNR found Polymet's plans to limit pollution were sufficient, but this finding is likely to be the subject of legal challenges.

The state is having to weigh environmental concerns against the economic benefits it would bring to a struggling part of the state.

Hess is a big backer of the project, which would bring around 350 jobs to the area.

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