What is the West Charlotte Cooperative Food Market?
The West Charlotte Cooperative Food Market is a new, for-profit business entity that will serve as the governing body of a new cooperative grocery store to be built in West Charlotte. The entity will provide strategic planning and management for the 12,500-square-foot grocery store, which will be built on federal land currently managed by INLIVIAN at the intersection of West Boulevard and Clanton Road.
What role does the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition play in the project?
The West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition is a nonprofit organization that drives community-led strategies promoting economic and community development for residents and businesses along West Boulevard. For decades, it has led the effort to build a grocery store on West Boulevard and currently serves as the cooperative grocery store’s nonprofit developer. The Coalition holds the ground lease for the land and is leading the fundraising efforts and coordinating the firms that will construct the store.
How will the grocery store operate?
After the new grocery store is constructed, it will operate as a for-profit business with an independent board of directors to which the general manager will report and that provides strategic oversight. An interim board has been named until the store is up and running. As part of the fundraising effort, individual shares in the cooperative will be sold to community residents, who will eventually elect the co-op board of directors.
What will be the grocery store’s name?
The West Charlotte Cooperative Food Market Board has yet to officially name the store. However, community residents have long advocated for the store being named Three Sisters Market.
What makes this grocery store project unique?
The features of this grocery store were developed during a nine-month design initiative by 12 community leaders and researchers from UNC Charlotte and Johnson C. Smith University. It was facilitated by UNC Charlotte’s urbanCORE office with funding from Mecklenburg County. The working group determined that the distinctive demographic features of West Boulevard required a set of business practices that the typical chain grocery store does not feature. For instance, the report proposes creative ways to attract patrons who live nearby and beyond, educational programming to promote healthy eating, place-making features to evoke community pride, and culturally authentic branding to enlist investment.
Are there similar grocery stores that have been successful in North Carolina or other parts of the country?
The Carrboro, North Carolina-based Weaver Street Market has been a successful food cooperative for many years, with stores in four cities. The North Flint Food Market Cooperative, currently being constructed in Flint, Michigan, with considerable public funding, is among a new generation of co-ops created specifically to address so-called “food deserts” in urban communities.
Who are the co-op’s community partners?
The West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition for years has led an effort to build a grocery store on West Boulevard. The West Charlotte Food Market Cooperative has built on this work by establishing an 11-member interim Board of Directors, many of whom participated in the working group that designed the store model. It is made up of community members, including leaders from the West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition and area churches as well as representatives from UNC Charlotte, Johnson C. Smith University, Atrium Health, YMCA of Greater Charlotte, Mecklenburg County, and civic leader and former Charlotte bank executive Mac Everett.
Is a second "fast start" co-op being planned?
Not at this time. A smaller "fast start" store was proposed in the working group plan but leaders later decided to focus initially only on the main store.
Why does this area of the city lack comprehensive grocery shopping options?
Historic patterns of racial segregation and discrimination that have created disparities in housing through demolition and disinvestment also have led to the demise of commercial enterprises, including grocery stores. More recently, full-service grocery stores have bypassed returning to such neighborhoods in favor of communities with growing populations of residents with greater financial resources.
Why is it important for a grocery store to be in every community?
The most devastating impact on communities without grocery stores is the lack of access to healthy food and the negative health effects associated with poor eating, including increased risk for Type 2 diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases and mental distress. As could be expected, large disparities of these conditions are more prevalent among the residents of West Charlotte than the residents of more affluent areas of the city. However, residents also emphasize that the benefits of having a grocery store include job opportunities, a sense of community status and a place for social gathering.
How much will it cost to build and operate the co-op? Where will the money come from? How will its operation be sustained?
The total estimated cost is about $10 million, of which about $8 million is needed to pay for construction and equipment. Another $2 million will cover hiring staff, fully stocking the store for its opening and establishing a reserve that allows the store to operate without debt for several years as it builds a stable clientele. The ambitious goal is to raise an additional $5 million to establish a reserve that allows the store to operate without debt for several years as it builds a stable clientele. After that, the expectation is for the store to operate competitively and profitably to produce the revenue needed to sustain its operations.
How will the community be involved in the co-op? Can anyone be an investor or a member; what is the process?
Anyone will be able to purchase stock in the cooperative, although the cooperative model limits shares to one per shareholder to ensure equity. There may be special stock categories for employees and for residents who live in close proximity to the grocery store that afford them greater authority in the business’s operations.
Who is leading/organizing the capital campaign; how long will it take to raise enough money?
The West Boulevard Neighborhood Coalition is coordinating the campaign with support from the Greenway Group and the West Boulevard Cooperative Food Market board of directors. The goal is for construction to begin by 2024 and for the store to open by 2025. The fundraising threshold needed for construction to begin has not been determined.
What are the measures of success?
The grocery store’s success will be measured in three areas:
Health impact: food security, consumption of healthy food, prevalence of adverse health conditions.
Social impact: community connectedness; efficacy in preparing healthy meals; customer dispersion.
Economic impact: growth of locally owned businesses; local buying power spent in the immediate community; employment and job readiness.
UNC Charlotte researchers are working with Mecklenburg County and community organizations focused on food security to establish a “research collaborative” that will track the impact of the County’s investments in this work.
How will the grocery store bring long-term economic benefit to the community?
As shareholders in the business, residents will reap financial rewards as the grocery store is successful. The business also will employ area residents, including in management positions, and serve as a catalyst for careers in food retail. In addition, community leaders envision the grocery store spurring other businesses beyond retail that are associated with the food ecosystem, including production, distribution, preparation, processing, home delivery, and disposal as well as new technologies in all these arenas. The hope is that the grocery store will serve as a catalyst that advances West Charlotte from being a food desert to the epicenter of a regional food enterprise.