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.”

Phew, English please! In the case of the South Philly Food Co-op, we’re a bunch of people from South Philadelphia who are coming together to open a grocery store. We will all own a piece of it and we will all get a say in how it operates. At this stage of the process we are building the “autonomous association of persons” (which we like to call “the really awesome group of people”), so that we can open the “jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.”

So you’re one of those farm shares, right? That’s cool but I’m not sure I could eat all that food by myself or find time to pick up my food once a week…

Whoa… whoa… whoa. Hold on, Tex. You’re mistaking a co-op for Community Supported Agriculture (CSA). A CSA is an organization that supports farmers by having members each buy a “share,” which supports the whole budget of a single farm or several farming operations. Members have a “shared risk and reward” agreement with the faming operations, and are limited to what is seasonally available and ripe. That’s not what the South Philly Food Co-op is.

What we are trying to start is a food co-op or a grocery store that is owned and run by its member-owners, usually offering natural, organic and local foods and other products. Food co-ops tend to focus on social responsibility and community building more than for-profit grocery stores.

So it’s like any other grocery store in that you can shop there whenever it is open, get your food when your schedule allows and only buy what you need.

What does membership mean?
By becoming a member-owner, you will quite literally be an owner of the store and will have a voice in which items and services the Co-op will offer. Our membership investment is $200. This is not a fee, or a donation; it’s a one-time investment in the store. Member-owner applications are available on our website and will be at community events.

Is there a work requirement?
Every member-owner household (no matter the size) will be required to complete 8 volunteer hours during the calendar year.  The people in the household can determine how to divide this time among themselves.

What are the benefits of becoming a member-owner?
Right now, you are entitled to:

  • The opportunity to run and vote for the Board of Directors
  • Ability to vote at general membership meetings and petition for policy changes
  • Educational classes and workshops
  • Discounts at participating local businesses through our Shop South Philly program.

When the store opens you will also be entitled to:

  • Member-only specials and sales
  • A say in the variety of products offered

Is the Co-op incorporated as an LLC? As a part owner, am I liable if the Co-op gets sued?
The Co-op is incorporated in Pennsylvania as a not-for-profit cooperative enterprise. It’s similar to an LLC in the sense that it shields the individual owners’ assets from a liability suit. In the event that the Co-op is sued, the Board of Directors is the responsible party and the Co-op carries liability insurance to protect the Co-op assets and the board members.

Can I become a member-owner now?
Yes! Fill out an application (available on our website) and send your payment to: South Philly Food Co-op, P.O. Box 31506, Philadelphia, PA 19147.  Checks should be made out to “South Philly Food Co-op.” In the process of filling out the application you’ll have the choice to pay through PayPal. As soon as we receive your initial equity payment you will be eligible for member-owner benefits. (So join online and pay through PayPal and become a member instantly.)

I already am a member-owner. How can I make an additional payment toward my member equity?
Easy. You have two choices. You can mail a check to South Philly Food Co-op, P.O. Box 31506, Philadelphia, PA 19147. If the name on the check isn’t the name of the household’s primary member-owner, please write that name in the memo line. You can also pay via Paypal (though we encourage checks to save on transaction fees) by using the form and link below:

Add additional equity

Where will the Co-op be located?
Ah, the number one question. After we reach our initial goal of 250 member-owners, the Board of Directors will convene a Real Estate Committee to start looking for a location.  Some factors that committee will consider are:

  • Where our member-owners are located
  • The real estate market
  • What our market analysis tell us about potential locations
  • What location will have the right combination of accessibility by walking, public transport and car? (i.e. available parking)

Our member-owners will have a say in where the Co-op is located, so please join and spread the word to your neighbors

How would the South Philly Food Co-op benefit our community?
The Co-op will be a community-owned and controlled enterprise committed to serving its members and being integral to the economic renaissance of South Philadelphia. Member-owners envision the Co-op as a vibrant community hub, connecting the residents of South Philadelphia with each other as well as with local food producers and farmers, who will supply much of the food in the store. The goal is to grow with the community over time, embracing the diversity of the neighborhood and fostering stronger ties among the different social and ethnic groups in South Philly. Co-ops also provide jobs, economic activity, and tend to attract and promote like-minded businesses and activities.

Will I be able to shop if I am not a member-owner?
The South Philly Food Co-op will be open to the public, but only member-owners will receive perks such as special discounts and the ability to vote and be counted in general elections. Additionally, without community support in the form of membership, the Co-op is less likely to become a reality.

When will the South Philly Food Co-op open?
Just like any start-up business, there are a number of factors that need to align before we open our doors.  Our goal is 2014. For more details, check out our timeline where you can also follow our progress.

We need your support!  How can you help?
Besides becoming a member-owner, please let us know how you’d like to be involved and if you have a particular strength or interest that you want to volunteer.  There are a number of ways you can get involved right now by volunteering, joining a team such as business outreach, or joining one of our committees. The South Philly Food Co-op is a dynamic, ever growing project and additional needs will develop as the initiative moves forward.   For more information, please visit the volunteer page and fill our Volunteer Interests Survey.

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