Members of the Fredericksburg Food Co-op weren’t dancing in the aisles Tuesday as they toured a city market that might become home to their first community-owned grocery store, but their excitement was “off the charts,” said board member Valerie Setzer.
“She was crying earlier,” chimed in member Els Van Wingerden.
Co-op board members have signed an agreement with Lee Plaza LLC, giving the co-op until June 17 to decide if it wants to open its local food cooperative at 320 Jefferson Davis Highway, in the Lee Plaza. That’s at the corner of Charles and Princess Anne streets and in the same complex as Hard Times and Captain D’s restaurants.
The Kabul Meat Grocery and Halal Meat Mart operates in the space—which once housed the A&P—but the Kabul Mart needs a smaller location, said Sardar Safa, whose son owns the store. The market caters to Asian and Arabic customers and is looking in Fredericksburg and Stafford County for another location.
The Food Co-op members have a lot of work to do before deciding if the building is for them—and they have to raise more money, said founding member Rich Larochelle.
The group has more than $1.1 million through its member loan campaign, in which members make loans of $2,000 or more to the co-op and can earn interest rates on the loans of up to 6 percent. It costs $200 for a household to join, and there’s no annual fee.
Member loans are a primary way that co-ops raise capital, according to the Fredericksburg Food Co-op website. Co-ops don’t issue stock to outside investors, as that would shift control away from members, but keep all the ownership within its ranks.
The Fredericksburg co-op has 1,065 members and needs another $500,000 in pledged loans, Larochelle said.
When it has the full $1.6 million, the co-op can go to the bank and borrow an additional $1.5 million. Combined, the money will be used to get the 9,400-square-foot location ready for the food co-op as well as purchase equipment and inventory and hire a general manager, said member Beth Dorn.
Members of the co-op’s site selection committee looked for more than a year for a location, and “we are convinced that this is it,” Larochelle said in a press release.
In a letter to co-op members, he asked members to consider making a loan with the co-op or an additional one, if they’ve already done so.
The local co-op already has earned a national award for the warp speed at which it’s moved. In March, the Fredericksburg group was named the Best of the Best at the Up & Coming Startup Food Co-op Conference in Milwaukee.
Jacqueline Hannah, assistant director at Food Co-op Initiatives, called Fredericksburg “terrific standouts as leaders. We see more groups struggle with [growth] than succeed at it, and Fredericksburg has been at the top of the successful ones.”
Larochelle thanked community support for the growth, saying there’s probably no other example in the region of a grassroots group that’s so quickly collected members—and money.
He was among five founders who sat around a table one Sunday four years ago and discussed how they could bring a grocery store, owned by local members and featuring local food, to the area.
Local nutritionists could discuss ways fresh food makes people healthier and the planet happier. Members would shop with reusable bags or bring their own containers to the store to reduce the waste that winds up in the landfill. Money generated by membership fees would stay in the local community instead of supporting a giant conglomerate.
That dream “is now within reach,” Larochelle wrote to members.
More information about the co-op is available at fredericksburgfoodcoop.com.