When you hear the term “food co-op,” do you automatically think of hippies selling sprouts and dried fruit out of bins in a corner store?
If you do, you’ve missed places like Weavers Way Food Co-Op in Philadelphia's Chestnut Hill and West Mount Airy where they have everything from a prepared foods department and hot bar to a salad bar and catering menu.
Hoping to replicate such success, a group is organizing a food co-op in Downtown Bethlehem. Group members have been meeting for almost a year and are close to filing incorporation papers.
“We just closed our feasibility study and we have some really preliminary results that are looking cautiously optimistic for us,” said Colleen Marsh, the co-director of the co-op steering committee.
“We need to have some solid information from that feasibility study before we file our incorporation papers,” Marsh said. “We really want to do this right.”
Marsh is one of the organizers and co-chairs the steering committee with Cathy Frankenberg.
The study should give group members a good idea of how much start-up money they need and where they should locate the store. They’re looking at neighborhoods Marsh called “food deserts” – where there are no large grocery stores with fresh produce.
That includes areas in downtowns on both sides of the river, Marsh said. She said the co-op wants people living downtown to have access to healthy food and fresh produce.
“In our area, the non-mixed used zoning has led to more of these food deserts,” she said. “For residents who live right downtown there are no fully functioning grocery stores.”
The cooperators, as they call themselves, plan to start a membership drive in the new year and will probably ask members to make a one-time “equity investment” of $100-$200 that members will get back if they leave the co-op. That would entitle each member to discounts at the store and give him or her a vote in how it's run. But the store will also be open to the public for shopping.
Any profit that the store makes can be invested back into the store or divided among the members, she said.
Do food co-ops make profits?
“Many co-ops have proven to be on a square foot basis more profitable than a Trader Joes,” Marsh said.
The Bethlehem Co-Op hopes to open by Earth Day 2014.
Currently, they are looking for public support in the way of votes for an entry in the Good Maker contest that could win the co-op $2,500. The voting, which is for community improvement projects, starts Sept. 27. Here's the link to vote:
Anyone interested in working with the co-op group can attend the monthly meetings at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of every month at the Unitarian Universalist Church at Center and Wall streets. You can find the co-op on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/BethlehemFoodCoOp