Board says this is a chance to reimagine, make space welcoming for residents
Updated Jan. 22, with new February meeting time
“Many may say this is déjà vu,” said Eat to Live Food Cooperative board member Babette Baker during the recent Dec. 19 meeting. This is because board members announced at the end of this year, the store will close.
Four years ago, the board made the same announcement.
This time the board wants to be open and upfront about the businesses’ shortfalls and communicate directly with its members. The board feels the urgency to work up a plan to reimagine the space in 2018 and wants to hear and include members’ suggestions into that new model.
On Dec. 17, 2013, the grocery store closed after being open for only three months. It later reopened in April 2016 with the help of funding from an anonymous donation and local grants. Since then, the business has been operating at a loss with no projected increase in sales in sight, according to the board’s financial advisor Don DeVeau. Membership has also not reached expectations, added board member Tanaya Thomas-Edwards.
“This should not be seen as a failure,” said Ron Ehrenreich, a coop member who also works with Cooperative Federal Credit Union. “Your first attempt didn’t work. Now you can try something new.”
So Tuesday evening the board met with members to stress their commitment to keep something in the space. Construction began on the building in 2012, and the total construction costs reached nearly $1 million to complete.
Board members shared their ideas and sought input from members on what they would like to see here and how the space can continue with a financially viable model and best serve surrounding residents. Fifteen people attended the meeting.
Ideas ranged from selling monthly subscriptions of prepackaged food boxes to offering yoga and wellness classes. Appearing to have the greatest appeal was transforming the space into a coffee shop.
The board members’ first proposed idea came from Thomas-Edward to partner with the Food Bank’s Food $en$e program. It is open to anyone that wants to stretch their food budget and requires no proof of income. Food $en$e provides a monthly box of 12 to 15 staple grocery items at a discounted price of $20.50 for each package, noted at a $40 value. Orders are placed through host sites rather than directly to the Food Bank of Central New York. Eat to Live could become a host site, receiving the items from the Food Bank and using volunteers to pack boxes that members would prepay for and then pick up by the end of the month. Currently there are no Food $en$e locations on the South Side.
The board also suggested bringing back Store for A Day, doing pop up shops, offering levels of membership, hosting cooking classes and wellness lectures, offering hot prepared meals, partnering with urban farms such as Brady Faith Farm to sell CSAs (Community Supported Agriculture) and even providing a service to deliver healthy snacks to area businesses, after school programs and more.
The idea for the coop originated in 2006 with the mission to offer access to fresh produce in the neighborhood because, at that time, the South Side was a food desert. Now grocery offerings include: Tops, a PriceRice and a total of three Family Dollars along South Salina Street.
“We have much more competition now,” Baker said, noting that Syracuse also started offering Uber and Lyft this summer, making it more accessible for residents to travel farther to big box stores that can offer deeper discounts and wider selections. She added Family Dollar even has refrigerated sections, which don’t offer fresh produce, but allow residents to pick up butter and milk.
Howie Hawkins, secretary/treasurer for the co-op board, added that the South Side may no longer be a food desert, but the neighborhood could definitely be classified as a coffee desert.
Much talk revolved around the idea of adding a coffee shop or simply becoming a cafe that also sells food. Many young professionals rely on coffee shops to hold meetings or even to sit and complete work on their computers. Attendees felt there is no spot in the South Side to get this coffee-shop feel, limiting them mainly to downtown. Baker noted one exception, the Dunkin Donuts near Valley Plaza.
The coop currently brews and sells Café Kubal, but is missing all the fancy offerings like espresso, lattes, flavor shots and accoutrements like Almond milk and natural sweeteners.
“Moving forward, we could be food and something,” Baker said about the new focus for the space.
“But you could be something that also happens to sell food,” followed up coop member Ruthnie Angrand.
The store, located at 2323 S. Salina St., closed Dec. 31.
The annual members meeting will be held 6 p.m. Feb. 23, at the food coop where board members will share their new business model and vision for the space. Members are strongly encouraged to attend and new members are welcome.
— Article by Ashley Kang, The Stand Director