Communities grow DIY grocery stores

When downtown residents are asked what they most want to see added to the business mix, a grocery store often tops the list. Post-recession economics may reduce the likelihood of chain grocers opening in downtown locations, but have instead spurred a new crop of grocery store co-ops.

The June issue of Downtown Idea Exchange looks at two communities that approached the development of a food co-op from very different directions.

Typically, a co-op first gets organized and builds membership, eventually forming a board, locating a space, and hiring a manager, but for New Haven’s Elm City Market in downtown New Haven, CT, things were done in reverse.

When plans for a chain grocer to occupy the first floor of a new mixed-use tower under development fell through, the developer rallied residents to create their own grocery store.

With space already available, the developer committed to funding half of the $7 million price tag for the new store. And he approached institutional lenders and secured another $1.3 million — but only if the market could attract at least 300 members to prove the viability of the idea.

When the concept was introduced at a public meeting attended by over 200 residents, a manger for the grocery co-op had already been hired, floor plans designed, and an online membership site created. The membership drive was also successful. The market has about 1,850 members, and employs more than 100 people.

The full article appeared in our print edition. To always get the full story, read Downtown Idea Exchange.

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