In the fall of 2013, the only grocery store in Northside Cincinnati (Save-A-Lot), closed its doors leaving the neighborhood in a food desert, upsetting our entire community, not just the impoverished folks who lack cars to drive to the next nearest grocery. Cincinnati itself has 10 fewer stores than the national average, an average already recognized for leaving 24.5 million US residents in food deserts. Translation, Northside, nor 4 of the 6 bordering neighborhoods have a grocery store.
Many Northside residents were aware of Co-op Cincy’s work in building employee-owned businesses and asked for help. Knowing that food cooperatives succeed in markets other independent grocers have ceded, Co-op Cincy conducted a feasibility study. Seeing an opportunity to leverage the community’s enthusiasm to support a worker and community owned grocery store, and the economic diversity of our neighborhoods, Co-op Cincy agreed to help.
Our vision was to combine the best features of a value-oriented grocer, our Northside farmers market, and a modern consumer food cooperative offering everything available at a large grocer. This was going to be a place where everyone feels welcome, owner and non-owner alike. The success of this business was going to be driven by the ideas and input of ALL customers and workers.
We believe access to healthy food is a human right and our communities’ self-reliance in providing for our food needs is essential; and that a company should provide not just jobs but career paths that offer family-sustaining wages, good benefits, while also providing life-fulfilling work.
We wanted to be an integral part of the community. Our concern for, and our valuing of all our neighbors, informs our vision of a grocery store that will be open to all, whether they are a community-owner or not, and our commitment that ownership of a share in Apple Street Market was going to be accessible to all regardless of income.
The business/operations plan was the result of comprehensive surveying and research, developed with input from neighborhood volunteers, architects, knowledgeable grocery professionals, a skilled general contractor, Co-op Cincy and successful distributors– taking into account the most recent, evidence based strategies to create successful food desert grocery stores. Together, we developed this viable model for grocery stores in low food access neighborhoods that will increase access to fresh foods, provide family sustaining jobs, and serve as a catalyst for neighborhood revitalization. Our multi-stakeholder (community & worker owned cooperative) business model is based on the successful Mondragon Eroski Cooperative grocery stores in Spain that combine the efficiencies of the free market with the values of a social enterprise.
Generally, a cooperative is a business whose purpose is to provide a service to its owners, instead of profit (providing housing, jobs, food, or anything else people need to thrive). When a co-op makes a profit, that profit is not the goal, but a means to achieve the desired service. By being profitable a cooperative is able to continue serving its community owners and that profit is shared amongst the owners based on how much they used its services.
A food cooperative is a grocery store owned and controlled by the community and operated for the benefit of anyone who buys a share in the cooperative; essentially, anyone in the community since anyone can buy a share and become part-owner. People like you have been forming food co-ops since before the Great Depression as a way to get access to affordable food, and a lot of what we expect from a grocery store started with food co-ops. That nutrition label on that can of food you bought, and truth in “organic” labeling? You have food cooperatives to thank.
We had chosen to make Apple Street Market a cooperative so our communities would have a grocery that would stay in the hands of the community and would stick with us through thick and thin. Unlike the traditional corporate model that has abandoned many neighborhoods.
Our benefit to the community was going to be as an economic and workforce development tool, as well as a means to increase the health of neighborhood residents.
Increased health benefits – Full-service grocery stores drastically increase the health and economies of communities. According to the American Journal for Public Health, introducing a grocery store to a community increases consumption of fruits and vegetables by as much as 32% and greatly decreases the risk of diabetes and obesity. Conversely, the over-saturation of convenience stores, when there are not accessible grocery stores, results in less healthy food options, increased obesity, and decreased produce intake. In recent years, much attention and research have shown the disparities between food access and the food environment in lower-income urban areas. Introducing these stores would save low-income residents substantial time and money (especially those without vehicles) and dramatically increase their exposure to healthy food options.
Workforce development – In addition to the creation of living wage, career jobs, there will be extensive worker-owner training through the Co-op Cincy on everything an owner needs to run a successful business.
Economic development – A walkable grocery store acts as a mall anchor markedly improving foot traffic for surrounding businesses and increasing sales up to 30% for other businesses in the neighborhood business district. And, other businesses will generally attempt to locate in the vicinity of a grocery store.
Additionally, these stores will be accessible to all. Significant efforts have been put into making ownership, and its benefits, available to the entire neighborhood; the goal being to reflect in the number of community-owners the same portion of low-income individuals as the host neighborhood if not more.
Compared to the corporate model, co-op grocers work with more local farmers and producers (averaging 51 purchases from local farms and 106 other local producers), carry 3 times as many locally sourced products, donate more than 3 times as much annual income, and sell far more organics, whether it is produced or other products. Co-ops spend more on local wages and benefits than conventional grocers, which means that they can pay employees nearly a dollar more an hour! Co-ops spend 38% of their revenue locally while conventional grocers only 24%. For every $1,000 spent in a food co-op more than $1,600 is generated in the local economy.
In the future, we hoped that once we open we want to extend the reach of the Market and further improve access to fresh, affordable food by securing additional funding for a shuttle and/or delivery service to Millvale Recreation Center, Working in Neighborhoods in South Cumminsville, Hammond North Condominiums and other low-income, low-transportation access and aging population centers in Northwest Cincinnati.