by Sue Ann Rybak

Weavers Way Co-op, a member-owned cooperative grocery with two locations in Northwest Philadelphia, announced Nov. 1 that it will open its third site at 217 E. Butler Ave. in Amber, the site of the former Bottom Dollar store, in April 2017.

“We’re excited about the prospect of bringing Weavers Way’s combination of good, sustainable food, fair wages and community engagement to Ambler,” said Jon Roesser, Weavers Way general manager in a statement. “It gives us an opportunity to meaningfully grow the cooperative in the region. All of us – members, employees, vendors and our neighbors – stand to benefit from this.”

Since opening its second location at 8424 Germantown Ave. in Chestnut Hill in 2010, the co-op’s board of directors has been looking for opportunities to expand. According to an editorial in the Weavers Way Shuttle by Mary Sweeten, during the co-op’s strategic planning process in 2013, stakeholders said “they wanted the co-op to become a more influential organization, to touch more people’s lives, to effect change on food issues.”

Roesser said that not expanding could have a negative impact on the co-op over time. He said that over the past year, Weavers Way has been working closely with the Ambler Food Co-op, a four-year-old organization without a brick-and-mortar store.

In October, the Ambler Food Co-op, which has almost 400 members, voted to become part of Weavers Way.

“We are thrilled that we have partnered with Weavers Way to reach our goal of opening a full-service grocery store that is connected to our community,” said Kathleen Casey, Ambler Food Co-op board president, in a statement.

Roesser said the new cooperative market is just six miles from Weavers Way in Chestnut Hill and has approximately 10,000 square feet of retail space. In addition to grocery space, it has a loading dock, ample space for back stock, a kitchen for prepared foods, and an 85-space parking lot.

Weavers Way plans to finance the expansion with a combination of commercial and member loans. The co-op hopes to tap into member equity: Weavers Way members are being asked to deposit up to a total of $400 in equity accounts. A recent campaign “Together We Grow,” launched last month, has raised an additional $45,000 in equity cash on hand.

The co-op hopes to get additional funding from the state, Montgomery County and Ambler Borough. Since the closure of the Bottom Dollar in January 2015, the borough has lacked a grocery store.

Casey said one aspect of Ambler’s charm is “it’s walkability.”

“But those charming elements don’t suit grocers who seek at least 40,000 square feet, and so it has been passed on by corporate grocers, leaving residents, many of whom don’t drive, without access to healthy food,” he said. “The appeal of a co-op is that it is adaptable, because it is developed and supported by the community.”

In September, Ambler Borough Council unanimously approved Weavers Way’s application to operate a store.

Chris Hill, Weavers Way board president, said not only is expansion a “prudent business move,” but “growing the cooperative business model matters.”

“It is critical to ensuring a more equitable, just and caring local economy,” Hill said. “We sincerely believe this opportunity to grow Weavers Way is in the best interest of all of us.”

Contact Sue Ann Rybak at 215-248-8804 or sueann@chestnuthilllocal.com.

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