You may have arrived home this weekend to find a hanger on the door breaking down the benefits of a community-owned grocery store. Benefits like a location that is walkable, healthy, local food options, and convenient hours. This has been a goal of the West Chester community for as long as I have been here. Every vacant building with a sizable footprint brings calls for a Trader Joe’s. There’s even a Facebook group dedicated to the cause, the aptly named: West Chester PA Wants a Trader Joe’s. It’s membership tops more than 2500 residents.
Yet each plea for the national co-op to make an appearance goes unanswered while the need for an accessible grocery option in the borough remains – raised again last month at the interviews for an interim West Chester mayor. Currently the closest full-service grocery options are Giant in East Bradford and Acme in West Goshen both with limited public transportation access and neither can be safely reached by foot. Carlino’s, which is centrally located downtown, offers some limited grocery options although at a higher price point than the chain stores.
So six years ago the West Chester Cooperative formed with a more local and actionable approach to bringing a full-service grocery store to downtown West Chester. After years of recruitment last fall they signed a lease on their future home at 142 E. Market Street. Ownership (remember a co-op is run by member-owners who all contribute to the running of the business) continues to climb to the magic number of 400 (the number of owners needed to move to the next phase of planning) with a goal of 600 members by the end of the year.
What’s next for West Chester Co-op: 4 Questions with Renee Ryan
These early planning phases are usually the hardest for a co-op, so I reached out to Co-op Board Member and Vice President Renee Ryan to get the latest scoop on the new campaign and learn exactly how close we are to getting this new grocery option.
Q: I see that you have settled into your future home at E. Market Street, so realistically, how close are we to having a grocery store downtown?
A: When the store opens directly correlates to how many member-owners we have. Among cooperatives across the country, this is often the largest obstacle – growing membership. That being said, we are currently at 392 member-owners. We already offer online grocery shopping, and we are also in the store design phase (usually started at around 400 member-owners). As soon as we get to 600, we will begin the search for a General Manager and financing options. So, West Chester’s awesome community is in charge — if they can get us to 600 member-owners super quickly, that will be the key (pardon the pun)!
Q: Can you tell us a little about what the shopping experience will look like? Will it resemble Trader Joe’s, Giant or will it be more of a specialty shop like Carlinos?
A: Great question! Since we are actually in the design phase, we have reached out to member-owners to ask them what they want their shopping experience to look like. Almost every person who completed the survey provided awesome detail and we can actually see and feel the store come to life through responses like these:
“Brightly lit, colorful, well organized, and easy to navigate aisles.”
“Vibrant produce just inside the door. It’s very cheerful and inviting.”
“The vibe. Music. Community. Events. Activities. A map of where all the local food comes from.”
“Like walking into a friendly home. Some gentle, upbeat music in the background, good smells, space to move between displays.”
“We are excited to have a store that has a neighborhood vibe as well as a globally-aware, socially-responsible vibe.”
Q: Will it be open to everyone or will you need to be a member to shop there?
A: The West Chester Cooperative will always be open to everyone. We currently offer Buy Online / Curbside Pick-up grocery service that is open to all. We want to create a sustainable community hub that supports the local economy and our community’s health. It will be owned and operated by the people who live in the community and member-owners will enjoy discounts and dividends in the future (so why not join?). The bottom line is that everyone deserves access to healthy local food.
Q: If someone wants to join, what should they do?
A: To become a member owner, visit our website to complete an online or paper application form. There is a one time $400 equity buy in and three options for payment. You can pay in full or you can break it up into a payment plan. Every new member-owner brings us many steps closer to opening our doors and you’ll be a key player in a community-owned and democratically-controlled economic institution that serves the owners and the greater West Chester community. There are great pics on our website of other co-ops around the country, so have a look around.
Thanks, Renee for the update. I’m excited. I know there’s been more than one Sunday afternoon I wish we had a grocery store downtown.
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