West Chester Cooperative began their GoBox distribution in October 2020 at their Market Street location, but they actually got their start many years ago. What started as a dream has now become a realty and is benefiting all of West Chester. This member owned organization has a vision of changing the way local communities view food, and they’re off to a great start. Working with over 30 local vendors to provide incredible food and fare, West Chester Cooperative is quickly becoming a staple of our beloved community, and Zukin Realty is proud to call them a Commercial Partner. We recently spoke with Cooperative Board members to find out what makes the West Chester Co-Op so special and here is what they had to share.
west chester cooperative – redefining grocery shopping
Note: All Images Property of West Chester Co-Op
When the West Chester Co-Op started 5 years ago, was it always a goal to move this into a full local brick and mortar grocery store?
Yes, a local, walkable, brick and mortar grocery store has always been the vision, and we know it will be much more! We want to create a community hub anchored by a member-owned grocery store, that also includes a local food program (CSA), a cafe, a community learning center and more.
For those who don’t know, what makes a Co-Op different than going to a regular grocery store?
Great question! Co-ops work to not only provide food that can be trusted to their communities, they also do it in a way that is sustainable, reduces environmental impact, produces less waste, and empowers the surrounding community by supporting the local economy. Co-ops keep local dollars within the community through member-ownership (dividends are returned to the member-owners, not to a remote set of stockholders or board), employing community members, and bringing vitality to the community itself. And don’t forget about the close link to farmers who can work directly with the Co-op (essentially, the community), which provides a sustainable food system for the community.
What will the brick and mortar store be like? When are you expecting to open the in-store location?
We are in the process of designing the store and our target date for opening is late 2021. We will share updates along the way, as well as pictures and videos of our store designer’s vision and progress as we move towards the opening date. Here are some existing co-ops that we love.
The Wester Chester Co-Op is member owned. What are the membership costs and what does a member-owner investment go towards?
Anyone can join for about $25 a month or a one-time fee of $400. This fee purchases a member-owner share in the Co-op, and the owners have a voice in electing the Co-op’s board, who will shape the direction of the Co-op. The investment will go towards building the Co-op and bringing it to life. It takes money to build a Co-op and like any grocery store, we have rent, start-up costs, inventory, heat and all the other expenses of a grocery store. That said, because the members are also owners, a co-op is more sustainable in times of economic downturn since co-op members and workers share the benefits in the good times and the burdens in the hard times.
I found it very helpful on your website that you mentioned Cooperatives are more resilient in economic downturns and in impoverished communities. When other businesses may shut down or lay off workers, co-op members pull together to work out solutions. How has this been helpful for your members/owners in this season of our country within the West Chester Co-op?
We have seen unprecedented growth in membership this year. While we still have a way to go, we are growing quickly and are very grateful to our community. Our member-ownership this year is out-pacing all other years, and we have grown by 20%! As mentioned above, a co-op is owned, operated, and controlled by its members, and it exists to meet their common needs. When the economy is good, member-owned businesses share the benefits among member-owners and workers. This is most commonly achieved by increasing wages, expanding benefits, distributing dividends to the member-owners (instead of absentee stockowners) and reinvesting in the community. And when business is tough, a cooperative strives to find collective solutions; instead of mass layoffs, the workers might vote to take voluntary pay cuts so no one person loses their job, and the board and member-owner committees might try to find new markets the cooperative can expand into. The strength of this truly democratic model enables people with limited resources to pool their capital, their shared skills and economic innovation to build a business that meets their own needs and goals and those of the community.
I see that the West Chester Co-Op is different from a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and separate from the West Chester Growers Market. How has gathering member owners brought the community together through these other options?
Yes, the Co-op is different from a CSA and we are separate from the WC Growers Market, however we do offer CSA shares and we do host an outreach table at the WC Growers Market every Saturday. Through both of these initiatives we have been able to reach a large part of our community as well as fulfill our mission to provide access to fresh, healthy foods to the borough. We have built a fantastic relationship with Crawford Organics in East Earl, PA as well as several other local farms who provide meat and poultry. We have also been able to educate our community on the local food system, sponsor farm visits and host local food events (previous to this year) and ‘chats’ with our farmers on Zoom (this year, of course) while putting together all of the elements that we need to build our wonderful store. Since moving into the store site at 142 East Market Street, our relationship with the original farms continues and we have established new relationships with over 30 local vendors and artisans for the launch of our GoBox program (online grocery with curb-side pick up) in October (keep reading for more details).
You often post on your Facebook page new vendors, where can we find a list of all your products and vendors?
We currently work with over 30 local vendors and love highlighting their important work on our social media channels AND we are adding new local heroes to our list each week! As mentioned above, this fall we launched a GoBox program to our member-owners that offers organic and locally-produced food items. The pilot phase with our member-ownership has been a huge success and just this week, we are rolling out the program to the rest of the West Chester community. So, to answer your question, just go to our GoBox site to peruse the list of lovely goods that we offer and there you can see all of our vendors and learn about each of them and their products as well!
In October, you launched member pick up boxes’. It’s amazing that these boxes are specially curated with a list of local- sourced, produced, and sustainable items to order from each week. Could we get a peek into what is available for purchase in your member ‘pick up boxes’?
Yes, the Co-op GoBox is a great ‘sneak peek’ at what the store will look like, with the convenience of curb-side pick up! We launched this October and initially offered to member-owners only and we are now open to the entire community. Since the start, our GoBox sales have grown each week which means we are able to better feature local artisans in our community and support those local businesses as well. There is an appetite in West Chester to support local artisans and local businesses and we are happy to fill it! It is easy to place an order online and then pick up curbside at the store on Tuesdays. Because of the selection, ease of use and a need/desire to limit time in public spaces because of the pandemic, the GoBox has been well received. And right now, it’s a great place to shop for unique holiday gifts for your favorite foodie, coffee lover, entertainer or family dinner-maker! These fun photos were posted by folks who were thrilled by their GoBox contents!
What excites you about the future of West Chester in the next 5 to 10 years?
Easy! A walkable grocery store, that provides healthy, organic local food options and a vibrant community hub in West Chester! Beyond that, it is our community that excites us! West Chester is one of the most amazing places to live, probably in the country, and can boast proudly of its centuries-old community spirit. The Co-op would not be where it is today without broad community support, and specifically, without the support of Zukin Realty with whom we are so very proud to work as a real partner in the quest to provide a real treasure to West Chester.
Any closing thoughts you’d like to share?
The Co-op’s future is based on membership growth. The more members we have, the sooner the Co-op opens, so our goal is 600+ members by this time next year. Since we are at 350 members currently, that is just 21 new members per month, so totally doable. There are many ways to become involved with the Co-op, and we welcome all of them, but membership is the most important way right now! It is super easy to join and pick the payment plan of your choice right here.