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Frequently Asked Questions

What is a co-op?

The International Cooperative Alliance defines a co-op as “an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” A co-op is not a charitable organization or social service agency.

What kind of co-op is the South Philly Food Co-op?

We are a consumer cooperative, which means that we are a business (grocery store) owned by our customers (member-owners) that operates with an aim of mutual benefit. While we have not opened our business’s physical doors yet, this structure still guides our start-up operations and planning.

Here are some local examples and models we are following:

Who runs the South Philly Food Co-op?

The Board of Directors, democratically elected by our member-ownership at general membership meetings in May of every year, oversees the operations of the South Philly Food Co-op. As we get closer to opening a store, the Board of Directors will vote to hire a General Manager, who will then oversee day-to-day operations of the store (staffing, product procurement, etc.) At that time, the Board of Directors—as the voice of our member-ownership—essentially becomes the General Manager’s collective boss.

What will I be able to buy at the Co-op?

The South Philly Food Co-op seeks to be a full-service grocery store. We will use the results from our 2016 product preference survey to guide the General Manager in stocking our shelves according to our member-owners’ preferences.

Who will be able to shop at the store?

The South Philly Food Co-op will be open to the public.

What are the benefits of being a member-owner?

Only member-owners will receive perks such as discounts in the store and, in a longer-term sense, patronage refunds. Right now, member-owners have exclusive access to discounts and specials at dozens of local businesses through the Shop South Philly program. Moreover, member-owners can help guide South Philly Food Co-op’s operations through their election of the Board of Directors. By becoming a member-owner, you will quite literally be an owner of the business.

Is there a work requirement?

Every member-owner household (no matter the size) will be required to complete 8 volunteer hours during each calendar year. Household members can determine how to divide this time amongst themselves. There are many different ways to volunteer—from handing out information at Co-op events and updating the website to designing marketing materials and offering legal services.

Is my equity refundable?

If you are a member-owner who has moved or no longer wishes to be part of the South Philly Food Co-op, you may choose to withdraw your membership. Pending cash availability, you will be given your equity investment back in full.

How do I join?

Fill out our easy online member-owner application! To be a member-owner of the Co-op, you need to make a one-time equity investment of $200. This is not a fee or donation. It can be paid in installments, with a minimum of $25 for your first installment.

What is the Co-op’s legal status? Are member-owners liable?

The Co-op is incorporated in Pennsylvania as a not-for-profit cooperative enterprise. The Co-op is not a 501c(3) tax exempt charitable organization, so member equity is not tax deductible. Similar to an LLC, our legal status shields individual member-owners’ assets from a liability suit. In the event that the Co-op is sued, the Board of Directors is the responsible party; the Co-op carries liability insurance to protect its assets and the Board members.

How can I help the Co-op?

If you’re not a member-owner, you can help by becoming one today! And if you are a member-owner, you can help by ensuring your member equity is paid in full. You can also volunteer your time—we’re especially open for help with outreach and events, digital and print communications, and fundraising.

If I have ideas for the Co-op, where can I share them?

The easiest way to reach us would be to email general@southphillyfoodcoop.org, and we’ll field your questions or recommendations from there. Of course, we always love sharing ideas with our member-owners at our twice-a-year general membership meetings in May and October, so be on the lookout for those, too! 

Where will the Co-op be located?

Our store will be at 2031 S. Juniper Street, less than a block from both Snyder Avenue and Broad Street.

How did you decide on that location?

We had a number of partners help us figure out what we would need in a store location that balances member-owner interest and long-term financial and operational success of the Co-op. Bill Gessner of CDS Consulting Co-op worked with us on our initial pro forma, Dakota Worldwide conducted our market study, and, most recently, local consulting group Elysian Fields helped us revise our business model and take a closer look at key assumptions we had been making. Jacob Cooper of MSC Retail hit the pavement with us in our site search. In total, we vetted over 100 potential store locations—and we’re thrilled to have found the one that positions us for long-term success.

What’s the timeline for opening?

Our aim is to open in 2017. The exact timing will depend on the completion of facilities improvements, as well as the success of our fundraising efforts.

What are the resources needed to open the store? Where will this money come from?

We project that opening our doors will cost $1.2 million, some of which has already been secured through our member-owners’ equity. To close the gap in our start-up costs, we will seek loans from community lenders, credit unions and/or traditional banks; grant funding; member-owner equity; and member-owner loans.

Will the Co-op own its space or rent it?

We’ll be renting the space. Renting is generally accepted as a best practice among our start-up food co-op friends nationwide. We signed a long-term lease that provides the opportunity to invest in our location for the long haul without the prohibitive capital investment required to purchase a space. We’re thrilled to partner with a landlord who is excited by our mission-driven operation.

What does the space look like? Do we need to fix it up?

At the time of our lease signing, our space was basically a vanilla shell. We are hiring an architect and contractors to fully outfit our store according to our needs, with guidance from regional and national experts layout and design. Our project managers at Watchdog are overseeing the fit-out process, ensuring that budget and cashflow needs are met.

Will there be parking?

Presently, there is no parking allocated to the South Philly Food Co-op. Street parking is available nearby, and we are exploring other options for designated loading and/or parking.

Will zoning be an issue?

Happily, no! 2031 S Juniper Street is currently zoned as CMX-2, which permits grocery sales on the bottom (commercial) floor.

Last updated November 19, 2016.