Dating Spaces: A Q&A with the Co-op's realtor, Jacob Cooper

Dating Spaces is a series of blog posts in which we share information about our search for a location with our member-owners and supporters. In our first post, we revealed our dating profile; next up, we asked our Real Estate Committee chairwoman to share her insights. 

We already know your No. 1 question about the Co-op: Where is it going to be located? But the answer's anything but simple. A ton of thought, research, pavement-pounding and negotiations are going into our search, and we're working with a local realtor to help us navigate the tricky waters of South Philly real estate. To provide insight about the process, we decided to go right to the source: our realtor and resident property guru, Jacob Cooper, partner & managing director at MSC Retail, here to shed light on what's going on behind the scenes. Thanks for your insights, Jacob! 
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Q. What's the current climate of the commercial real estate rental market? Are properties generally renting quickly?  
A. The climate is strong for commercial real estate right now. Rents are definitely rising, which typically pushes small businesses out to peripheral retail locations.
Q. What are the top three things you look for in a space for the Co-op?
A. Convenient location, functional layout, and affordable rent.
 
Q. Of the spaces that haven't worked for us, what are the top three reasons why they didn't work out?
A. Through this search, the Real Estate Committee has discovered that the perfect space simply doesn't exist. It's all about finding a space that satisfies as many of our requirements as possible. Rent has easily been our No. 1 issue. Other requirements include access to public transit, functional loading and trash solutions, visibility, signage and wide, usable dimensions. Plus, the space has to be delivered with upgraded utilities, HVAC, bathrooms, etc.
Q. How long does it typically take to negotiate a contract with a landlord?  
A. Retail negotiations can take months. They are complex negotiations.
 
Q. What are the pros and cons to renting a space vs. buying? 
A. With buying, you control your own destiny and potentially grow your equity in the building as it appreciates in value. However, if you don't want to tie up capital with inactive cash (like a down payment), it's better to rent. Renting also keeps relocation options on the table.
 
Q. What types of businesses spaces (former banks, auto body shops, retail storefronts, etc.) are most likely to work well as a co-op?  
A. Typical storefronts (like many on Passyunk Avenue) won't work for us because they are too small. We are looking at properties with more width, like warehouses and other commercial properties.  
Q. What if you find a space that's perfect ... except it's too big? Would the Co-op consider splitting a space with another business?  
A. Absolutely.
 
Q. Are you a member of the Co-op? 
A. Not yet, but I've promised myself I will join the day we sign a lease!
[Editor's note: We know Jason isn't the only one who's waiting to become a member till our location is secured! Our membership base is so strong already, and we can't wait to welcome even more member-owners once we have a forever home.]
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Dating Spaces: Hear from our Real Estate Committee Chair about The Search

Dating Spaces is a series of blog posts in which we share information about our search for a location with our member-owners and supporters. The following is from the Co-op's Real Estate Committee Chair Angel D'Ippolito.

"Everyone's favorite hypothetical grocery store."

I remember attending the very first meeting of the Co-op's Real Estate Committee back on July 9, 2012. There were a lot of people at that first meeting, which really showed how eager people were even back then to get the store up and running. Now, as the chair of the committee nearly three years later, no one is as eager as me to turn the hypothetical store store into a physical reality.

The Real Estate Committee is 100% committed to finding the right space for our store. We have examined the viability of over 80 properties. We have done site visits of about 20 of them. Committee members have had countless meetings with potential landlords, developers, state and city legislators and agencies, civic leaders, lenders, other co-op leaders, and realtors. We interviewed half a dozen realtors and hired one. Through a Community Design Collaborative grant, we worked with a local architecture firm to prepare an architectural program for the store. Market studies have been obtained, financial pro formas prepared, and so much more has been done in the effort to find the right location.

You might have noticed that I didn't say we are looking for the "perfect" space. The reality is that no site in South Philly can meet every single item on our dream store wishlist. However, I am convinced that we will find the space that has the necessary balance in location, shape, size, loading, accessibility, and price. We face a fair amount of challenges. The biggest challenge thus far has been in finding spaces that (i) exist and are available, (ii) fit our few must-haves, and (iii) are priced in a way that gives the Co-op a good chance at long-term success. Places that are too big are too expensive to operate. Spaces too small don't offer the ability to stock enough product to sustain necessary sales. Locations on ideal commercial corridors are often priced way too high or get scooped up quickly by other suitors. Locations hidden away in neighborhoods often don't offer high enough sales projections to justify the start-up costs.

Phew - that's a lot of generalizations, I know! Know, however, that we analyze each and every location that comes to our attention with specificity and balance. We investigate every location that is brought to our attention, while actively searching for new potential sites. Sometimes we revisit prior sites to see if anything has changed.

We really need you, fellow members, to be on the lookout for spaces that you think match our dating profile. Call 215-839-8213 or email us with any possible locations. As I said, we'll leave no stone unturned!

We promise that we are moving as quickly as reasonably possible while exploring sites with diligence. As winning basketball coach John Wooden once said, "If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?"

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Dating Spaces: You Can't Hurry Love

It's been awhile since we've updated our member-owners and neighbors about the search for our dream location, so we know what you must be thinking: When is the Co-op going to find a space? Why are they being so picky?

Let's work backward on those questions for just a moment. We're being picky because we want to be sure we find a space we're completely, entirely committed to. We've done market studies and developed performance indicators that give us a clear sense of what we need in a space that would serve us well, not just the other way around.

Isn't that what a healthy relationship is all about? You know, this whole process has felt a lot like dating. It's been exhilarating and frustrating and inspiring and maddening -- sometimes all in one day. On the upside, though, all the disappointing site visits (the one-night stands of real estate) and unsuccessful developer negotiations (the brief flings) that have yet to result in the real-deal relationship have made us stronger than ever.

We haven't forgotten your first question about when the Co-op will find a location. We just don't have a clear answer for you -- because, as it turns out, love is hard! Three wise ladies (well, technically, their mama) once told us "you can't hurry love," so we’re taking our time before we tie the knot.

Even though we haven't gotten hitched yet, we promise you, we're serious about looking. At the beginning of the year, we took stock of our romance landscape. At that time, we had examined over 80 properties, visiting about 20 of them in person. We met with at least 6 developers (think speed dating event managers) and 5 realtors (professional matchmakers), hiring our favorite realtor last fall. (You'll meet him soon. His name is Jake, and he helps keep us emotionally balanced.) And, of course, we got plenty of advice from a wide network of family and friends.

For a while, we felt a little shy about sharing our dating life online. But in true co-op fashion, we want to be open about our search for real commitment, and we want anyone reading this to know our wants and needs and be ready to give that approving thumbs-up when we find a space we really, really love.

So we tucked away our nostalgia for the days when dating wasn't so complicated, put on our big kid pants, and went for it... We made an online dating profile:

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We're just giving you the screenshot for now, but rest assured, we'll keep you updated with plenty of juicy behind-the-scenes action from our logged-in account throughout this Dating Spaces blog series. Circle back for a first-date flop story or two, plus photos and interviews with our crew of dating advisors that is the South Philly Food Co-op Real Estate Committee.

Now that we're putting ourselves out there digitally, we hope you'll help us find the one by sharing our dating profile screenshot on Facebook and telling all your friends we’re looking for love. We invite you to email realestate@southphillyfoodcoop.org, too, if you want to get more involved with the matchmaking process.

Till next time, internet lovers.
xoxo,
South Philly Food Co-op

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6 Ways a Food Co-op Can Change the Economy

A friend of the Co-op tipped us off to the video below, which is from the keynote address at the Berkshire Co-Op Market annual member meeting, November 1, 2014. We just got finished watching and found it a helpful piece to remind us of several of the reasons we're involved in this effort. If you have 27 minutes or so, please give it a watch, if only for the humorously-drawn cartoons.

Speaker Janelle Orsi is a Post Carbon Institute Fellow. Several of her concepts are very helpful in keeping the benefits of a co-op in mind.

For example, watch the sequence starting at 2:17 and just imagine "South Philly Pinball" in place of "Berkshire Pinball" and that your dollar is the one bouncing around from the Co-op to various local suppliers of the Co-op's inventory.

At 10:46 of the video, Orsi boils down cooperatives--generally--into two features:

1. Board is elected on a one vote per member household basis. In other words, capital investment doesn't determine voting power. 

2. Profits are distributed on the basis of patronage (i.e. how much you spend at the Co-op). Capital investment does NOT determine profit share.

Or, as Orsi puts it: "Cooperatives are business in which money cannot buy power. And money cannot buy profits."

Here it's necessary to point out that the South Philly Food Co-op is still some ways away about making decisions about distributing profits but the sentiment generally holds true. So far it has played out in the fact that each member-owner equity share is $200 for every household. And no household can put more than $200 in and expect to have any more say in voting or distribution of profits. (Now... more than one person in a household can invest the full $200, but in that case each person is considered his or her own member-owner household. No individual person can ever have more than one vote.)

Orsi's 6 ways a food co-op can change the economy derive from six roles a food co-op can play in the community:

1. Food co-op as buyer: supporting other local businesses, like we hope to do with the #ShopSouthPhilly businesses who have supported us!

2. Food co-op as convener of purchasing and people power: Amazing how much influence a group of 600-1000 households can wield in this town!

3. Food co-op as a learning hub: The South Philly Food Co-op has done this through our various Eat and Learn events (like The Skinny on Fats) and other Speaker series events (like Chard over Cheetos!)

4. Food co-op as research hub: Hey, South Philly, what do you want to see in this neighborhood!

5. Food co-op as a physical hub of the community: fingers crossed on this one! Our Real Estate Committee is working every day to find the Co-op's home so it can be precisely this... a hub of the community.

6. Food co-op as investor: Money bounces around South Philly in that South Philly version of pinball.

If you're a member already, you can feel good that you're helping to open an enterprise that will do ALL of these things, and more, for the community you call home. If you're not a member yet... join now! Get in now and be part of the effort to help us find and finance our new home! 

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Delightful, Delicious, De Bucks County

You know how sometimes, at parties, it takes a little while and some critical mass until folks start to feel comfortable filling their plates and glasses? Not at Terroir of Pennsylvania: Ideas for Hosting Local this past Sunday. South Philadelphians know the goods when they see them!

Cheers (but actually) to Buckingham Valley Vineyards and Winery for offering a wide sampling of their red, white, and dessert wines. (Dessert will never be the same without their blackberry wine.) And to the Philly Muffin on which we placed our local cheeses, both hard and soft: we'll be back for you.

Many thanks to Programs and Events Committee Co-chair Sarah Radcliffe for hosting over 30 member-owners, neighbors, and friends at this sharing of sips and tips on our region's finest wines, cheeses, and breads. A schmooze-y and booze-y time was had by all!

Take a look at Sunday's impressive spread in our Flick set below:

PS Have you ever thought about putting rosemary in your homemade apple butter? Member-owner Emily Kohlhas did, and our stomachs were very grateful as a result.

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There Was Broth! And vegetables and meat...

This past Sunday the South Philly Food Co-op hosted its fifth (!) Soup Swap, or, as Hollywood called it - Soup Swap V: There Will Be Broth! Ten Swappers and a few really-have-a-thing-for-soup observers gathered at the home of Co-op Programs and Events Committee Co-Chair Sarah Radcliffe for a draft as intense and suspenseful as any fantasy football draft.

After an hour or so catching up with fellow Co-op members and welcoming new residents to South Philadelphia, Swappers picked their draft position from the traditional Soup Swap hat. Co-op member Molly Harrar won the honor of first pick in the draft selecting a vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, nut-free, taste-FULL sesame tomato soup.

The draft proceeded rapidly from there as each Swapper ended up with a variety of six different soups to get them through the next several over-hyped "snow-mageddons." 

A few photos of the event are available on our Flickr page:

For anyone who wasn't able to make it, despair not! Soup Swap will return soon in Soup Swap VI: The Quest for Peas!

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Remember the Co-op for your Holiday Giving this year!

Shop-South-Philly_web-version-292x300.jpgWe are so thankful for all of our members and supporters, and we ask you to remember the Co-op during your year-end giving.  Thanks to our partnership with fiscal sponsor Fair Food Philly, you can help the Co-op achieve its goal of opening a community-owned grocery store with a tax-deductible, charitable gift.

Please help us continue to grow one of the most exciting projects in South Philly by making a donation to the Co-op today! (If you give before December 31st, you can count the tax benefit for 2014.) Your donation will go toward outreach, events and Co-op education, keeping our community connected and growing the Co-op’s local impact.

Making a donation is easy. Make a secure online donation here, use the button at the bottom of this page,or write a check, made payable to our fiscal sponsor Fair Food Philly, and mail it to us at: South Philly Food Co-op, P.O. Box 31506, Philadelphia PA 19147.

In addition to being a member (JOIN NOW!), attending our events (and bringing other folks with you), volunteering or offering discounts at your business as part of Shop South Philly, supporting the Co-op with a charitable gift furthers your investment in an enterprise owned and controlled by a pretty awesome group of South Philadelphians! You can always get all the latest information on what’s going on at southphillyfoodcoop.org. We hope to see you at a Co-op event soon!

PayPal - The safer, easier way to pay online!

 

P.S. Since we're on the topic of the holiday season, are you still looking for a gift idea for the "not-yet-a-Co-op-member" in your life?

Give the gift of membership!

We've set up a form that allows you to easily give the gift of membership to friends or family who you know want to be part of the Co-op but who haven't taken that next step.

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Watch our Awesome #GardenTour14 Video!

Special thanks go to Co-op Programs and Events Committee member Martin Brown for overseeing this project on the Co-op's behalf and to Skout Media for creating a video that reflects all the fun, optimism, teamwork, diversity and community-mindedness that the South Philly Food Co-op embodies!

By the way, if you're on Facebook, please throw a "Like" and share the version of the video that we uploaded there!

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The Results Are In: Best. Garden Tour. Ever.

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The numbers have been officially crunched, and we're so pleased to report that the fourth annual South Philly Garden Tour was our most successful one yet!

Here's a recap of #GardenTour14 by the numbers:

  • 23 gardens from Second to 10th streets, Fitzwater to Moore
  • 200 tickets sold for a total of $4,180
  • 200 swag bags distributed
  • 38 wonderful sponsors rounding up $8,000 in cash and $4,425 in-kind donations
  • $227 in swag sales, including mugs and limited-edition tees
  • new Co-op member and a bunch of new followers on Instagram and Twitter
  • raindrops from 1 to 4 p.m.

That all adds up to a glorious grand total of $12,180 raised for the South Philly Food Co-op!

Many thanks to all who contributed to making our tour a great success! That includes those of you who recruited gardens and sponsors, promoted the invite to media, neighbors and friends, volunteered your time, took the tour, and talked up the Co-op in general. We couldn't have done it without you.
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#GardenTour 14 in the News

The fourth annual South Philly Garden Tour, a self-guided exploration of the green spaces hidden in South Philly's concrete jungle, is just around the corner. As we count down to the big day, your friendly neighborhood co-op blog team is here to remind you of all the most crucial reasons why you should join us on Saturday, September 6, 1-4 p.m., for our biggest fundraiser of the year.

Hot Off the PressIt's Garden Tour Eve! To celebrate this special made-up holiday, we're rounding up some truly wonderful press that the fourth annual South Philly Garden Tour has been garnering over the last few weeks. (And don't forget to grab your tickets today for only $20! They'll be $25 at the door tomorrow.)

First up, our local paper of record gave us some major love this week! Big thanks to reporter Bill Chenevert and the South Philly Review for coming to visit two of our 23 gardens and getting a taste of what #GardenTour14 is all about. 

Our biggest fundraiser of the year made it into The Philadelphia Inquirer's weekend roundup in print, and philly.com's online.

KYW-Newsradio's Lauren Lipton spoke with Programming and Events Chairwoman Leigh Goldenberg about this year's tour for her "Positively Philadelphia" segment, which also appeared on The Daily Meal.

Speaking of local radio, the Garden Tour appeared in WHYY/Newsworks' weekly Entertainment Guide, sharing the stage with the Fringe Festival, Dilworth Plaza's grand opening and many more fun events. (But ours is the best.)

We've also gotten shout-outs on Curbed, PhillyMag, Uwishunu, Generocity, Green Philly Blog, the Examiner and more! Can't wait to see you tomorrow.

The Fourth Annual South Philly Garden Tour
Saturday, September 6, 1-4 p.m. (Rain date: Sunday, September 7, 1-4 p.m.)
Check-in: Gold Star Park, 613 Wharton St.
The Garden Tour is the South Philly Food Co-op’s biggest annual fundraiser, with all proceeds directly supporting costs associated with opening a community-owned and -operated full-service grocery store. Tickets cost $20 in advance and $25 at the door. 
Click here for more information about this year’s tour or to get your tickets today.

 

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