Five years ago, a group launched a campaign to build a cooperatively owned grocery store in Richmond. More than 1000 residents have signed up as members and the initiative is preparing to renovate a building on city’s southside. WCVE’s Catherine Komp has more for Virginia Currents.
Architect Patrick Farley greets about a dozen people, eager to check out the future home of the Richmond Food Co-op. The tour starts in what is now a barren parking lot. Come opening day, says Farley, you’ll see lots of plants and outdoor seating, what he calls the “front porch.”
Patrick Farley: To create a really dynamic, interactive public space that welcomes the community.
The building is off Forest Hill Avenue on Westover Hills Boulevard, in a 5,000 square foot space that used to be a thrift store, and before that a Safeway. Inside Farley points out where the aisles and registers will be, an area for coffee and prepared food, the kitchen and service area. They’re going to repurpose as many materials as possible, and the hire locals to make the rest.
Eventually, says Farley, they hope to add solar energy.
Farley: It isn’t just a great thing to do from an environmental perspective, it goes right to the bottom line. We’ll be putting money back into our pockets from having on-site energy production.
There are more than 200 co-op grocery store across the country, including in Harrisonburg and Roanoke. The number is growing but down from a peak in the 1970s. This will be the first in Richmond since Fare Share Cooperative Grocery closed in the 1990s.
Michele Lord: It’s been a long and rewarding journey. It’s been about five years of growing our membership...
Michele Lord co-founded the Richmond Food Co-Op with Susan Hill. Through hundreds of events, potlucks, even a book club, they’ve attracted more than 1100 members.
Lord: It’s been a labor of love for all the people involved in it, it really is a community effort, this is a manner of word of mouth, a volunteer effort, of people coming together around this idea of growing it.
For the Richard Co-Op, there’s a one-time sign-up fee of $25, and a $125 equity charge, that’s refunded if you ever leave the area. Income-qualified residents can pay, $5 to join and $10 in equity. Anyone can shop at the co-op, but members are also co-owners. They take part in decision-making and eventually, sharing in any profits.
Inderdeep Huja: Having local sustainable, practices makes for a better community.
Inderdeep Huja signed up as the 300th member several years ago.
Huja: That’s what made me join, hoping for a local co-op that could provide great quality food at an affordable price and a sense of community.
Audrey Kane: It was more affordable than Whole Foods, but still had local produce and a nice selection, a hot bar. So I was excited about efforts to open the co-op here because we live ¼ mile away and there really are no grocery stores in this area.
Huja also joined the member loan campaign - a financing model that many co-ops use. The cost to open the store is about $1.7 million and the co-op will raise about $800,000 through member loans, borrowing the rest from a financial institution.
Lord: Co-ops are this unique business structure where they are about ownership in a community so member loans are this exciting way to extend that and invest your money, to look at it from a slow money perspective in terms of knowing where your money is, being able to have that have the biggest impact on your community and your economy.
Lord says they’re hoping to wrap up fundraising this Fall, with a goal of opening the store in 2018. Architect Patrick Farley will do additional building tours in October and November. For Virginia Currents, I’m Catherine Komp, WCVE News.