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Co-Op will double in size

Steel frame makes for a geometric art at the new Hendersonville Community Co-Op Steel frame makes for a geometric art at the new Hendersonville Community Co-Op

When leaders of the Hendersonville Community Co-Op began thinking seriously about a new building, they relied on a spirit that gave birth to the cooperative and has sustained it for 36 years.

 

"It feels like a very long story because we've been after it for about five years," says Gretchen Cummin, the Co-Op's community outreach coordinator, "but it is really simple and straightforward and I think that's partly because we're a co-op."
The cooperative looked to its member/owners first when it came time to raise money for the new market. If the co-op serves the tie-dyed tofu set and those interested in healthy eating in general, it also runs the books with a hard-nosed focus on the bottom line. That tends to happen to managers that have more than 2,000 bosses.
"Co-ops can't function and take a lot of risks," Cummin says. "It has to be a transparent, slow and steady and thoughtful process of raising money and spending money. Because what we are is a business that's owned by the 2,300 families or households that pay their $25 to be owners of the co-op."
Slow and steady they went, raising the money to buy property from a gas company across Spartanburg Highway from their current digs and to hire a contractor, Cooper Construction, to erect the new store, classroom and offices. The co-op already has more than $1 million worth of equity in the project — money it raised by selling $1,000 preferred shares with the possibility of dividends that could pay up to 5 percent interest.

Deli to expand

The buildings have a total of 15,000 square feet. The new retail space of 8,000 square feet will double the size of the community co-op's current crowded space. Fans of natural foods and organic alternatives to the grocery store produce sections can look forward to more fresh vegetables, seafood and meat.
Co-OpGretchenCumminGretchen Cummin is the Co-Op's community outreach coordinator."We'll be able to access a lot more of the food opportunities, especially produce," Cummin says. "There are a lot of farmers in the region — we're in a hugely centralized agriculture area. A lot of small farmers are popping up as well as farmers that have been here for years. As it is right now we're unable to source as much (local produce) as we'd like to. We'll be able source more local foods and even processed and packaged foods. We will also have a larger deli area."
The new market also will upgrade the dine-in and takeout service.
"And there will be a station that is actually making sandwiches to order," Cummin says. "Now it's just grab and go; the sandwiches are premade. There will be a little more seating inside but definitely seating outside as well for the deli. There will be trees and an arbor."


Started as a buying club

Born as a buying club in 1978, the Co-Op incorporated in 1987 and opened its market on South Grove Street in 1992. It has expanded several times and is busting the seams now as it tries to squeeze in retail space, offices and a demonstration kitchen.
Although conventional supermarkets are stocking more natural foods choices and chains like Whole Foods and Earth Fare pose a threat, Cummin says the Co-Op has a loyal customer base and a culture that will keep it strong.
"We've watched other co-ops across the nation face that and a lot of us on staff right now who have here a number of years have been able to learn from their process," she says when asked about the competition. "Co-ops have managed to sustain. They've managed to perhaps take a dip in sales but the co-operative business model as well as the philosophy and the actual offerings in the co-op are going to be different than a Whole Foods. It would hurt but I think it also might crystallize the shoppers and their loyalty and what they really are looking for."
After raising $820,000 from members over 18 months, the co-op financed the remaining construction cost through the Self Help Credit Union, Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund, the Natural Capital Investment Fund, USDA and the Local Enterprise Assistance Fund. The new store is scheduled to open by March.