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An artist's rendering shows the future Harmons grocery store at downtown Salt Lake's City Creek Center. The store is scheduled to be completed in fall 2011.

SALT LAKE CITY — A backhoe sporting a golden bucket hoisted the first scoopful of dirt Thursday morning, marking the construction of a downtown grocery store — the first there in a quarter of a century.

Utah's family-owned Harmons grocery company brings 78 years' experience to City Creek Center in a store designed for its urban location and customer base.

Co-owner Bob Harmon, among the third generation of family members operating the business since 1932, said he and his team have spent four years carefully preparing for the company's 15th store location.

"Since being invited by the LDS Church in 2006 to be a part of City Creek Center, we've traveled around the country and around the world to educate ourselves about how to improve our business," Harmon said. "Salt Lake residents will experience that work in a selection of fresh food, much of it sourced locally, chef-prepared entrees and lunches, a great, state-of-the-art setting and the continued Harmons commitment to the best quality at the best value."

Bishop H. David Burton, presiding bishop of The Church of Jesus of Latter-day Saints, noted the Harmons project is the last of the construction starts at the 22-acre, privately financed development that spans three blocks downtown.

"All of the other components of City Creek have been started and are in the homeward stretch of completion," Bishop Burton said at Thursday's event. "This is the concluding groundbreaking."

The new Harmons store features a modern steel-and-glass facade and innovative two-story design that puts parking on the roof of the building.

Natalie Gochnour, an economist and executive vice president of the Salt Lake Chamber, lauded the church for its investment in downtown, saying Salt Lake City is joining other great cities such as Boston, Chicago and Seattle as the jewels of their regions.

Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker said he's been a Harmons customer since moving to the capital city in the '70s. And now he finally has an answer to a question he's frequently asked by constituents: When are we going to get a downtown grocery store?

"Harmons is a wonderful example of a locally owned, locally grown business," Becker said. "Their products are known to all of us that live here."

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The Harmons grocery legacy goes back to the company's first store, a fruit stand called the Market Spot opened in 1932 at 3300 South and Main by Jake and Irene Harmon, Bob's grandparents.

Now, with the City Creek Center store under construction and another being built in Farmington, the Harmon brand stretches from St. George to Ogden.

"Our associates are our greatest asset," Bob Harmon said, "and it's one of the things people will notice when they shop at a Harmons for the first time. Harmons employees are excited and enthusiastic and there to help."

The new Harmons store is slated for a fall 2011 opening.

e-mail: araymond@desnews.com