East Falls exploratory food co-op meeting to be held Wednesday

It seems Manayunk and Roxborough aren’t the only Northwest neighborhoods in which the idea of a new food co-op is taking root: East Falls is exploring a similar effort of its own.

And perhaps not surprisingly, residents there are enlisting the help of Weaver’s Way board president David Woo for advice, insight and support. Woo will be appear at the first exploratory meeting for an East Falls co-op, to be held Wednesday night at the offices of the East Falls Development Corporation.

It’s the brainchild of Naveen Mallikarjuna, a freelance video and graphics designer who recently moved to East Falls from South Philly. Mallikarjuna saw discussion of the Manayunk-Roxborough effort on local message board PhiladelphiaSpeaks.com, and asked whether his neighbors would be interested in one for East Falls.

Gina Snyder, EFDC’s director, supported his query and has become a point person in the nascent effort, coordinating the meeting with Woo. The East Falls effort is separate from the Manayunk-Roxborough one, those involved say, because the two neighborhoods are far enough away from each other that customer bases wouldn’t undermine each other, and because East Falls lacks its own food-shopping options — something Mallikarjuna said he noticed immediately after moving in.

“It’s frustrating to have to leave the neighborhood just to get something like a gallon of milk, and I know I’m not alone in that sentiment,” Mallikarjuna said. “Having a food store in East Falls would be something Fallsers would be very happy about.”

Woo said he attended a similar meeting in East Falls a few years ago that brought marginal interest, but thinks a lot has changed since then. He, too, felt confident an East Falls co-op could likely stand on its own.

“All three neighborhoods are so different that I think if enough people come out of the woodwork to support cooperative enterprise in the form of a grocery store, I would think that depending on a lot of factors, it could work,” Woo said.

The Manayunk-Roxborough exploratory meeting, held last month at Mishkan Shalom synagogue off Shurs Lane, drew 220 people and has resulted in the formation of three initial committees, said Jane Lipton of the Manayunk Development Corporation. The steering has 32 people signed up, 40 people volunteered to serve on a marketing committee, and another 20 joined a financial and legal committee, Lipton said.

“We were blown away by the attendance, and there is incredible support and excitement around the project,” Lipton said. After the initial public meeting, engagement on the Facebook page for the Manayunk-Roxborough Food Co-Op also jumped dramatically, and a newsletter on the effort went out to those who gave their email address at the Mishkan Shalom meeting, Lipton said.

The next public meeting on the Manayunk-Roxborough effort is scheduled for 7 p.m. next Wednesday, May 9, in the River Room at the Manayunk Brewery and Restaurant on Main Street. There, those who signed up for committee posts already — and anyone else interested in joining — are invited to come and get to know each other, appoint committee chairs and discuss next steps, Lipton said.

As for why there seems to be a sudden, intense interest in neighborhoods all over the city in forming local food co-ops, Woo said historically, co-op movements have gained ground during down economic times. The first real co-op surge in this country happened during the Depression of the 1930s, and picked up again during the 1970s recession and economic crunch, he said.

The East Falls meeting will be held at 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, May 2, at the East Falls Development Corp. offices at Ridge and Midvale avenues. There, as at the Manayunk-Roxborough meeting, Woo will discuss the background of the food co-op movement and talk about some of the challenges that would need to be met before the enterprise could become a reality. Interested residents can sign up to join a steering committee or help with other organizational efforts, Mallikarjuna said.

For those who can’t attend the meeting, but are interested, contact Mallikarjuna at naveenmalik@yahoo.com or Gina Snyder at ginasnyder@eastfallsdevelopment.org. A Facebook page for the East Falls effort is also in the works.

NewsWorks has partnered with independent news gatherer PlanPhilly to provide regular, in-depth, timely coverage of planning, zoning and development news. Contact Amy Z. Quinn atazquinn@planphilly.com.

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