5 takeaways from South Philly Food Co-op’s membership meeting

South Philly Food Co-op has been on the hunt for a location for a grocery store for some time now.


While there’s no location picked just yet, there are plenty of interesting developments happening at everyone’s favorite theoretical grocery store. At a membership meeting over the weekend, they discussed plans for the future and some interesting things happening now for the co-op and their 645 members. 

So what what were the big takeaways from the membership meeting on Sunday?

1. Funding for the grocery store

The big topic for the co-op is their search for a physical location to set up shop as a grocery store. While they’ll continue to raise funds, they do have have enough money in-hand currently to help with negotiations. They also have financing from some community lenders. Once a location has been secured, they will be looking for help from the membership community in the form of member loans through crowd-funding.

2. Expanding location search perimeters

After three years of searching for a location, they’re still not ready to give up. They’ve been constantly scouting new locations and expanding their search perimeters. The co-op is now looking as far west as 23rd Street and as far south as Oregon Avenue. They’re seeking a space between 3,500 and 5,000 sq. ft.

3. Timeline for opening

Once a location is secured for the co-op, they plan to open within 8 or 10 months. This also depends on what improvements will need to be made to the space prior to opening.

4. Product preference survey

The South Philly Food Co-op wants to get an idea of what sort of products you’d like to see stocked in their grocery store once it becomes a reality. So fill out this survey to share your shopping habits with them so they can cater to your needs. You can find the survey here.

5. Garden Tour success

At this year’s garden tour they raised a total of $6,000 in cash and $6,000 in-kind. Despite not-so-great weather on the day of the tour, this event included more gardens than ever with a total of 33 stops.

You can keep up-to-date with the South Philly Food Co-op on their website and Facebook page.

46 thoughts on “5 takeaways from South Philly Food Co-op’s membership meeting

  • October 28, 2015 at 12:39 pm

    Should’ve rented the old Rite-Aid on E. Passyunk. Putting the Coop down on Oregon, or anywhere west of Broad, isn’t going to work.

    • October 28, 2015 at 9:52 pm

      Why won’t it work if it’s west of Broad? Half of South Philly lives west of Broad, do you think we won’t use it?

      • October 29, 2015 at 8:52 am

        @Alycia, ok…. so what percentage of that population is going to join/shop at the Coop?!
        Common sense, you put it as close as possible to the MAJORITY or your desired customer base. smh… this is not rocket science.

    • October 29, 2015 at 1:25 am

      There is a lot more space and parking available near Oregon Ave. In addition, at least three bus routes run there and the Oregon Broadstreet line too. Whitman Plaza has tons of space or even across from the new South Bowl bowling alley. There is so much potential for us to build and expand. There’s parking for goodness sakes! Stop trying to stuff the entire city within the confines of the overcrowded E Passyunk or Newbold. We need room to grow and attract more people. Oregon ave is close enough to your comfort zone and far enough to reach other audiences.

      • October 29, 2015 at 10:35 am

        Nope, I personally would never shop that far South.

    • October 29, 2015 at 2:43 pm

      Rite Aid at 7th and Dickinson should be available soon and it has a parking lot.

      • October 30, 2015 at 2:09 pm

        Isn’t Rite Aid being bought by Walmart?

        • October 30, 2015 at 4:29 pm

          No. Rite Aid has already been bought by Walgreens who will be selling off under performing stores which I assume this one is.

  • October 28, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Isn’t Image of Man closing?

    • October 29, 2015 at 2:32 pm

      do you not know how high rent is on EPA?

  • October 28, 2015 at 9:32 pm

    We were one of the first families to join 5 years ago. I was at the meeting and asked “Will you
    Just search for a location forever?” Everyone laughed. The answer was essentially “yes”. They have over $100K in member equity. They owe it to the members to find a location.

    Additionally they asked members to continue to send them locations that they could check out, so I asked if they could let us know where they have looked and they said that is private information and they can not do that.

    I’m not sure if there’s anyone out there that agrees with me, but maybe we need to start demanding a location? Or at least more transparency in the process of finding a location?

    • October 29, 2015 at 1:27 am

      It’s supposed to be a democracy, so technically it should be out in the open: we suggest locations and vote on it. Can’t keep letting the e-board sit for a good enough bribe to sway their decisions.

      • November 8, 2015 at 10:35 pm

        Anyone familiar with negotiating a site knows that you don’t reveal your cards until the site is secured. Having an owner referendum on the site sounds like a good idea, but would be disastrous for the co-op for many potential reasons. Landlords jacking up prices or competitors squatting on the property are just a couple reasons why this isn’t done. Sounds like the board knows what it is doing. I will add that I have worked with co-op people from many different areas all over the U.S. for the last 3.5 years of my life as I give over my time to open up a co-op in my community and I can tell you that we are all flawed, but I have never met a co-op organizer that was in it for their own self interests such as looking for bribes.

    • October 29, 2015 at 9:20 am

      @ Jess – My wife and I joined the Richmond Food Coop in Richmond, VA four years ago and they haven’t even started looking for a location. The challenge is that these food coops want to tackle a large location from day 1, and in doing so, they create a decade-long startup. They SHOULD start with a smaller location, which could get started quicker and then expand down the line. Probably easier said than done, but they owe the starting members/owners some progress.

      I refuse to EVER join a food coop again until it’s actually open. I’m still waiting for the ridiculous Richmond Food Coop to open so I can get my membership fee back.

    • October 29, 2015 at 10:36 am

      If you want to get involved, you should join the Real Estate committee, or run for the board.
      It’s not supposed to be a democracy – that’s why you elect board members and delegate to committees.

      If every Dick and Tom had to sign off on every single decision, the process would be even slower.

      • November 10, 2015 at 12:17 am

        Actually, it IS supposed to be a democracy, that’s why the members actually vote in other members to the board. YOU, as a member-owner, have just as much opportunity to be involved as the next member. Whether or not your choose to, is your own thing.

        Democracy is a love and strong in co-ops. You should be proud this board is taking it’s time to find the right location. They aren’t settling for a location that MIGHT work, they want one that has the best change of succeeeding and that is exremely important in the world of grocery stores, especially cooperatively owned groceries.

    • October 29, 2015 at 11:06 am

      At the meeting they did say if you were wondering about a specific location to email them, and if you are very concerned join the real estate committee and provide your support.
      Perhaps they could use some new perspectives.

      My cousin works in commercial real estate with large chains and he says how he works with some stores on a specific site for five years while they go through the process.

    • October 30, 2015 at 10:42 am

      There were flyers up at B2 a couple months ago that said people were organizing a civil suite because it’s questionable if the board every really intended to get a space. Not sure what’s happening with that. But yeah, I think you have a right to be frustrated. I’ve been a member of two other food co-ops in other cities and they were nothing like this. This group is a mess. They’re just taking money and twiddling their thumbs.

      • October 31, 2015 at 8:55 pm

        seems silly since i think you can write and receive your equity back – if someone is that unhappy they should do that.

  • October 29, 2015 at 8:11 am

    The Shop Rite on Swanson and Snyder is closing….they are moving to the Pathmark site…..parking and space needed….

  • October 29, 2015 at 8:32 am

    Have they considered renting space in the old Bok Vocational Tech high school? They should contact the developers – Scout, Ltd.

    • November 8, 2015 at 10:23 pm

      Hi Angela,

      If they have done their research then they know that opening a food co-op in a setting such as BVT would result in eventual failure.

      Finding the appropriate site is tough and you definitely should appreciate the deliberation the board is taking in making this choice.

  • October 29, 2015 at 10:52 am

    Good idea Angela!

  • October 29, 2015 at 11:04 am

    One thing to consider, they didn’t start looking for a store years and years ago. They had to wait until they had enough members and then they started to search.

    I wish they were starting with a smaller size, perhaps 2k instead of 3-5k

  • October 29, 2015 at 12:37 pm

    Bok should be at the top of the coops list for location.

  • October 29, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    Hi all — Jess Calter here. I’m the president of the South Philly Food Co-op’s board of directors, and I wanted to take a minute to address some of your comments. We know our members are anxious for progress, and we continue to work tirelessly to make it happen.

    In securing a home for the Co-op, transparency is a delicate balance. Every time we find a promising location, we want nothing more than to shout it from the rooftops! But we can’t — it would jeopardize our negotiating power to reveal too much, too soon. As a board democratically elected by our membership, we are entrusted to make wise financial decisions with our members’ money, and we take that job extremely seriously.

    That said, we want to be open and honest about how the search is going, and we know our members have a lot of questions. Here are some ways you can take action right now:

    – Read our ongoing blog series “Dating Spaces” (www.southphillyfoodcoop.org/blog), which answers members’ questions about our location search. The series includes a Q&A with our realtor (http://www.southphillyfoodcoop.org/dating_spaces_realtor_q_and_a); an explanation of why we’re looking for a 5,000-square-foot store instead of a 2,000-square-foot store (http://www.southphillyfoodcoop.org/dating_spaces_viability); and much more. We continue to try to answer your questions in this format as frequently as we can, so if you have questions you’d like answered, please email them togeneral@southphillyfoodcoop.org.

    – Sign up for our e-newsletters (http://www.southphillyfoodcoop.org/) and follow us on social media (@spfoodcoop on Twitter; https://www.facebook.com/SouthPhillyFoodCoop/ on Facebook). We update our supporters regularly on these channels about upcoming events, member news and progress reports.

    – Join a committee. Our board and committees are made up entirely of volunteers who care about the Co-op and want it to succeed.

    – If you know of a location we should pursue, let us know! Email general@southphillyfoodcoop.org with any suggestions.

    Thanks as always for voicing your concerns — it’s important to us to know how our membership feels as we continue our search, and we’re trying our best to keep your informed and we encourage you to get involved so your voice can continue to be heard.

    If you have questions, please email them to general@southphillyfoodcoop.org.

    • October 30, 2015 at 10:58 am

      Look. I’m not trying to be inflammatory, but this response really isn’t good enough. It’s been five years. You have our money. This is absurd. What is the procedure for nuking this whole thing and starting over with a team that knows what they’re doing?

      • October 30, 2015 at 2:01 pm

        Did you read the contract you signed when you handed over your money?
        You can redeem your share and walk away at any time if you don’t like it.

        Starting a business is difficult.
        I’m glad they’re taking their time to do it right, so that it doesn’t go under immediately.

        • November 2, 2015 at 10:35 am

          That solves the problem of me getting my money back, but not the problem of having no food co-op in South Philadelphia. You effectively have a monopoly. No one can start a new food co-op and hope to attract members; every interested party has already given money to another co-op. The people who really want a co-op are screwed. We’re stuck waiting for this inept group to bumble their way into bankruptcy. You need to either call in someone who can get things done or just give up and let another group do it.

          Starting a business is the easy part. Making it sustainable is what’s difficult. Saying “starting a business is difficult” doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence.

  • October 29, 2015 at 5:18 pm

    Jess, thanking you for taking the time to respond here. I do apologize for venting publicly, but I did want to gauge whether others felt the same. I just sent an email to inquire in a more constructive way about the process and how the role that community leaders like myself can play. I also stressed how much respect I have for you all.

    I do feel strongly that taking the time to list out locations that the coop has possibly already considered is a huge waste of time & resources and I hope we can find a compromise.

    • October 30, 2015 at 12:02 am

      Jess – No problem. Thank you for being such an engaged co-op member-owner. I appreciate you attending the General Membership meeting and asking great questions. And we really appreciate your willingness to help with the process. The only way we’ll succeed is through the support of our member-owners. So thanks and I look forward to more discussion.

  • October 30, 2015 at 10:47 am

    Did they address the lawsuit at all? At this point I’d just like my money back and call it a loss in order to allow someone else to step in and organize a co-op, so the lawsuit is sounding pretty appealing.

  • October 30, 2015 at 11:22 am

    @ Heather, care to elaborate??

  • October 30, 2015 at 11:43 am

    The folks who really need the affordability and access that a coop would provide go the Shoprite on Oregon currently, so I’d say work on spreading the word in that area rather than catering to a crowd who won’t pass Broad.

  • October 30, 2015 at 12:11 pm

    As members, we can get our member equity back. And I encourage you to do so if you are frustrated. Depending on the response I get from the email I sent, I may be requesting mine back. It will mean little if one or two of us request it back, but how bout 50 of us?

  • October 30, 2015 at 3:04 pm

    I think you owe it to the members to tell them all the great locations you have turned down and why. The board is trying to find every reason to turn down every space that comes its way rather than trying to find a way to make it work. It’s not going to be perfect.

  • October 30, 2015 at 5:09 pm

    Hot off the presses: this was just emailed out by the coop:

    et’s start with some numbers: The Co-op maintains a list of over 95 spaces that have been considered to date. Over the past three years, we have vetted 32 spaces, including visiting sites, meeting with landlords and, in some cases, engaging in lease negotiation. For various reasons, these have not worked out. A few examples:

    1535 E. Passyunk Ave. (Former St Jude’s): Structural layout restricted efficacy of utilization; delivery access and loading posed too great a challenge

    1715 McKean St.: Market study of sales projections for this residential area proved to be insufficient

    1172 S. Broad St.: Landlord chose another lessee

    Ninth and Wharton streets (former Annunciation School): Space layout restricted efficiency of utilization which restricted sales; landlord chose another lessee

    Shop Rite at Snyder Plaza: Space is too large and the fixed costs to operate it are too high

  • October 30, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    So done with these turds. They’re going to head to Tijuana with our dues any minute now.

  • October 31, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    Jess Calter – thanks for the info, the main reason I suggest a smaller store has less to do with viability but just seems like in our crowded area that size might be easier to find.

    For those who are frustrated you have options.. join committees, be involved and engaged if all else fails ask for your equity back. It is a co-operative and these things can take time to be done right. We see business start and fail less than a year all over Passyunk and if the board does things the right way hopefully we won’t be one of those business.

    PS – I am not on a board, or on one of the committees, I don’t even know any of them personally. I just trust the process and am giving it time, I hope you do as well.

    • November 2, 2015 at 10:43 am

      That’s like saying “if you hate Walmart’s workplace policies, become the president of Walmart.” We’ve tried attending meetings, joining committees, pestering the board for action, getting our equity back. We’re not any closer to having a food co-op we can use. The “take your ball and go home” approach doesn’t work with a food co-op. That’s why it’s a co-op. And when the clique in charge of the co-op is incapable of running a business, what are we supposed to do? Cross our fingers and hope we won’t be laughed at during the next meeting when we ask about progress again? It’s like talking to a brick wall. This entire co-op needs to go and we need to get people with EXPERIENCE in to do it right.

      • November 2, 2015 at 8:09 pm

        @Joey FM – you too have tried to be on a committee and got blown off? Same here.

  • November 4, 2015 at 8:17 am

    A Cooperative Enterprise is not about you, or me, or her, or him, or them, or they. It is about us, the “WE” with a variety of disparate views and desires. The education part is always difficult when the expectation of a few with esoteric issues bring them up. This is not a team from “Trader Joe’s” or “Whole Foods” with a plan and a multi-million dollar budget to set up shop.

    These are volunteers and neighbors who are doing the job to meet their needs as well as the community’s. Go to the website, go to a meeting, and also look at the story of River Valley Market in Northhampton, MA that took 7-9 years (depending upon which committee origin you want) to open. After about six years in operation, they are a successful grocery store that rivals the annual revenue of Weavers Way in Mt Airy after 40 years of operation.

    Take also into consideration the folks at the Co-op grocery operations “Tall Grass” in Iowa and “Pioneer” in Troy, NY that both failed after around a year of operation. The South Philly leadership want to do this with as much on their side as possible, because they know that the community is looking to them with as much desperation as pride.

    Patience and trust can be a difficult hurdle when a few voices pipe up, but knowing that most people haven’t called in their marks yet is a good sign that enough will stick with it to the completion of the project. It seems that some of these naysayers could be adding pressure for many good reasons, but it cannot be discounted that some are looking to push this Co-op into making decisions not for the benefit for all but for their own agenda, whatever that may be, let your imagination run with that.

    The best forum is to engage with the leaders yourself and to also familiarize yourself with this International Cooperative Alliance definition of a Cooperative Enterprise –
    “A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

    Google for more and learn the Principles of Cooperation and you’ll understand why this is developing as the real estate and economic environment will allow. I trust what this group is doing and it may not meet your expectations, but remember it isn’t about you.

    David Woo
    Cooperative Enthusiast and Weavers Way member

  • November 6, 2015 at 2:11 pm

    As promoted via email and social media, the Co-op’s Board will be holding “office hours” at Black ‘n Brew this Sat., Nov 7th from 9-12 to speak with members and the broader community about the Co-op, our real estate search and solicit feedback.

    See – https://www.facebook.com/events/1131179110233528/

    • November 7, 2015 at 7:24 am

      …and always circle back to the Cooperative Principles. Read them, discuss them, understand them and share them.

      1. Voluntary and Open Membership
      2. Democratic Member Control
      3. Member Economic Participation
      4. Autonomy and Independence
      5. Education, Training and Information
      6. Co-operation among Co-operatives
      7. Concern for Community

      The raw material for the answers you need are here.

  • November 8, 2015 at 11:30 pm

    Hey South Philly folks, just wanted to chime in here as a veteran of a food co-op start up. It took nearly 9 years to launch our store, the Eastside Food co-op in Minneapolis, which opened back in 2003. I was on the startup board when we made the decision to buy our building, after many long and frustrating and fruitless searches to find a location. It was a tough call, and the financing implications of the purchase nearly sank us two years after we opened. We had to work hard to pull back from the chasm, and in the end were successful. Today we are thriving and in the midst of an expansion. But it was unimaginably stressful and heart-wrenching back then, to imagine that our decision to greenlight the co-op at that building could have lost our community its co-op after all those years of work to get it going. I will always be grateful at the profound support we received from the greater co-op ownership. The leaders of your co-op are doing their level best, I have no doubt. Get involved, show up to meetings, definitely voice questions and concerns – but don’t forget to give them some love for doing the heroic work of trying to get the thing open in a responsible way.

    • November 10, 2015 at 9:32 pm

      Thanks for taking time to help us contextualize this.

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