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Chester County Press

Borough Council votes to move community grocer’s ideas forward

06/05/2024 11:02AM ● By Richard Gaw

The six-year journey to open a cooperative grocery store in the Kennett Borough moved one step closer to an eventual reality on Monday evening.

By a unanimous vote on June 3, the Kennett Borough Council voted in favor of placing a letter of intent from Kennett Community Grocer on its June 5 consent agenda, following a 45-minute presentation by Kennett Community Grocer Board President Edie Burkey and a back-and-forth conversation between owner-members of the proposed cooperative and council members. 

The intention of the organization is to eventually occupy 7,000 square feet of space on the first floor of the Kennett Borough Building at 600 South Broad Street, where it will provide accessible, affordable, local and natural foods to the entire Kennett Square community and surrounding areas; use sustainable practices to promote healthy lifestyles; serve as an educational hub and resource center; and offer affordable and subsidized grocery options for lower-income individuals and families. 

If the lease arrangement with the borough is ultimately accepted, Kennett Community Grocer would sign a 10-year lease with the borough – with an additional 10-year option -- to operate the store at a rate of $17 per square foot.

Burkey said that the community-owned food co-op – first conceptualized in 2018 – currently has a 12-member board and 374 member-owners and is one of 94 food co-ops in development across the U.S., all of which are being mentored by the Food Co-op Initiative.

“We will be good tenants and we are not just developing our financial Performa out of the blue,” said Burkey, who was supported by more than one dozen member-owners in the audience. “It was developed with a lot of thought and mentoring by the Food Co-Op Initiative. Of the top 12 food co-ops that are emerging, we are identified in the top 10 of those who are projected to be sustainable. 

“We meet the benchmarks of sales forecasting and cash flow forecasting for emerging food co-ops.”

Affordable options

Burkey said that a sales analysis conducted on Kennett Community Grocer two years ago projected that the grocer will create $2.5 million in income during its first year. Comparatively, she said that a 3,000 square-foot co-op in Philadelphia is recording $3 million in sales a year.

The co-op’s business plan in the immediate future, Burkey said, will be to seek grants and pursue fundraising with the Chester County Community Economic Development Corporation. At the same time, it is working with an architect who is creating an artistic rendering of the proposed space and is looking to hire a full-time general manager, who will establish partnerships with local farmers and vendors throughout Chester and Lancaster counties. 

Burkey said the emphasis for the proposed co-op will be on providing local and sustainably grown food and keeping food prices in check to accommodate the entire community. 

“We will not be charging farm market prices,” she said. “We will be putting a lot of effort into the wholesale market in order to make [shopping at Kennett Community Grocer] affordable. For those individuals who have struggled to buy groceries, they will be able to [purchase items] with their SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits. 

“We will also be doing on-going fundraising for Food for All Program, a deep-discount program for those who do not qualify for SNAP benefits but are living at 200 percent or below the poverty line.”

The projected timeline for the opening of the co-op was answered by Colis Townsend, who along with Luis Tovar is representing Kennett Community Grocer as a realtor. He said that the opening will occur after the borough completes infrastructure improvements in the building, such as abatement of asbestos.

“Once those things are all provided, that’s when our term will begin, and we will probably open within a year after that,” Townsend said.

While he said that the borough has “struggled” to attract commercial tenants in the Borough Building, Council President Bob Norris said that the borough is not able and willing to spend a lot of money to refurbish the building and fitting out space for a particular user. He said a few months ago, the majority of the council said they preferred to dedicate more of the building space to community use rather than commercial use.

‘This incredible place right in our backyards’

While a few of those in the audience expressed their skepticism about the proposed grocer establishing a business as a tenant for the borough – as well as the logistics of how the borough would maneuver through unexpected problems that could arise in their role as a landlord -- a wide majority said they supported the concept of bringing a cooperative grocery store to a borough that will be within walking distance of many residents.

“What a wonderful thing it will be for those residents who don’t have transportation and have to ride their bikes or walk on major roads to get to Giant or up to Walmart,” said former council member Peter Waterkotte. “I think it’s going to benefit the residents who don’t have transportation access to be able to safely walk to a grocer to buy their groceries. It’s a nice thing to keep in mind for the large number of people who don’t have transportation.”

Borough resident Patrick McKenna expressed his support of Kennett Community Grocer, comparing its concept to the building of the Kennett Library. 

“We took a chance on the library, and now it’s here, and it’s amazing what an asset it is for the wired community, and every single day I feel fortunate that I live in the borough, and I can walk to it any time I want,” he said. “The grocery will become another pillar of the community, and we will be able to walk to this incredible place right in our backyards.”

To contact Staff Writer Richard L. Gaw, email [email protected].