Over 100 neighbors gathered at the groundbreaking ceremony of the CreekSide grocery store cooperative last week, blocking off the entire road in front of the recently purchased store.
A live band played above the excited buzz of the crowd, just steps from the Elkins Park regional rail station in Cheltenham township.
The CreekSide Co-op has been in the works since 2007, and almost became the site of the Mt. Airy based Weavers Way food co-op expansion. Four years ago, Weaver’s Way general manager Glenn Bergman and board members began the conversation in the local library.
CreekSide officials said they expected 40 people, max. David Woo, president of the Weavers Way board said the response was overwhelming. “Before i knew it my cheek was up against the window and I’m watching all the cars circling the driveway in the parking lot,” he quipped during the ceremony.
The initial meeting was even shut down by the fire marshal because the building couldn’t hold the 200 attendees.
So why isn’t it a Weavers Way? Bergman previously indicated that the site just wasn’t close enough to relieve the bustling sales from the crowded Mt. Airy location.
Instead, its an independent co-op because Bergman said that they expanded into Chestnut Hill instead where they had 500 members living already. But Weaver’s Way is still closely related.
Jon McGoran, long time communications director and editor for the Weaver’s Way Shuttle newspaper moved to Cheltenham township since 2006 and sits on the CreekSide co-op board. He said that even after the decision to expand into Chestnut Hill, they still wanted to support them.
“We’ve been giving them communication support, purchasing, and designing the site,” he said.
McGoran said that Weavers Way will have a relationship with the fledgling store, and the two markets plan to work together but be independently run. Weavers Way gave CreekSide a $4,000 seed loan with low interest and a slow repayment schedule. And McGoran expects a close tie between the two stores.
“We’ve been using our suppliers for years so it makes sense to pool our purchasing power,” he said explaining that they plan to share infrastructure and maybe even create a joint cooperative newspaper.
“I’d love to see some back and forth, you know CreekSide being able to carry some Weaver’s Way products and vice versa,” he added.
CreekSide has its own board of directors, membership of nearly 1400 member households which represents 4,000 individuals in Cheltenham Township. The CreekSide Co-op is looking to hire a general manager and McGoran said once they’e filled that position the two co-ops can sort out the details.
Weavers Way officials said they like to support other co-ops, citing efforts to offer Weavers Way members work shift credits if they volunteer for the Mariposa Food Cooperative expansion move in West Philadelphia.
The CreekSide Co-op was financed through a three million dollar loan backed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and presented by locally owned Vantage Point Bank. An additional $560,000 was offered by the Reinvestment Fund if members were able to raise $250,000 in loans themselves.
McGoran said that one reason for the connection is that many CreekSide members are former Weavers Way members who crossed the county line. “They’ve seen the benefit that a co-op can have and want to bring it to their own community,” he added.
Like Martin Tuzman, a vegetarian who owns a window cleaning company and moved to Mt. Airy in 1978. It’s been ten years since he moved to Montgomery County but he says that crossing county lines was a ritual.
“I would come back on Friday afternoons and it was like going to the bar, the “Cheers” bar, you’d go in do a little bit of shopping and meet a ton of friends,” he said.
Tuzman said he left the neighborhood after his second marriage, his wife had children in the school district already.
“One of the hardest things about leaving Mt. Airy was leaving Weavers Way,” and said that Elkins Park is like the Mt. Airy of the suburbs. Tuzman said he can’t wait for the new store to open.
“I think this is going to be outstanding for our neighborhood,” he said.