Manayunk co-op proposal takes off on Facebook; community schedules public meeting for April

Last week, the Manayunk Development Corporation – in conjunction with Weaver’s Way Co-Op grocery – announced plans to explore the feasibility of establishing a food co-op well within the reach of Manayunk and Roxborough residents.

While credit for the idea goes to an enthusiastic – but unnamed – Main St. property owner, Jane Lipton – Executive Director of MDC – is spearheading the inaugural efforts to establish a co-op in her district.

Lipton related the background of the plan – and how it may take shape.

Securing community and MDC board support

According to Lipton, the origins of Manayunk-based specialty grocers began in 2008, when a strategic plan for the area was devised. In the blueprint, a desire was expressed to bring a market on the order of Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods to the district.

However, it was not meant to be.

“It’s very difficult to get something like [these establishments] in a district of our size,” said Lipton.

Flash forward to the present, when Lipton was approached by the as-yet-unidentified property owner about attracting Weaver’s Way to Manayunk.

Knowing the amount of resources required by such an undertaking, Lipton approached the MDC’s board two months ago to secure their backing for a co-op initiative.

“I couldn’t dedicate my staff without board support,” she said.

About two weeks ago, Lipton held a small meeting in which the plan was discussed in more detail. David Woo, President of Weaver’s Way, was present at this meeting, being brought into the conversation by the anonymous business owner.

According to Lipton, Woo emphasized at the meeting that Weaver’s Way did not have the ability to expand to a third location at present – two other stores are currently in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy – but he offered the institutional knowledge of his organization to assist with the new store.

Woo did not immediately return Newsworks’ request for comment.

Gauging interest

With administrative support secured to some degree, Lipton said she took one thing to heart – “is there interest?”

She realized the next necessary step was to get the word out, and created a Facebook page to serve as a central location for information and, more importantly, to gauge support.

Characterizing the response thus far, Lipton said she is encouraged by the amount of enthusiasm demonstrated at this early stage – best evinced, she said, by over 100 “likes” on the initiative’s Facebook page since its launching last week.

“That’s not insignificant,” she observed.

No less significant is the fact that an establishment of this character could serve as a draw to Manayunk.

Noting that there are two other grocers in Manayunk currently, Lipton feels that a co-op could be complementary to extant merchants that she said already add value to the district.

Asked whether the proposed co-op could have any impact on these retailers, Lipton said it could have an effect, but stressed that each would serve distinct clienteles.

Reaction from Roxborough and East Falls

Leaders of other development corporations are similarly intrigued by the proposal.

Bernard Guet, Executive Director of the Roxborough Development Corporation, said that he had not heard about the initiative, but said he was interested.

Prompted by the requests of numerous residents in prior years, Guet related that he approached Trader Joe’s specialty grocer about opening a store in Roxborough but, in his words, “it didn’t work out.”

With the absence of specialty grocer serving the 50,000 residents of Roxborough, Guet said that he thinks a food co-op could work in his district – he’s just not sure where it would go.

Noting that few large-scale spaces remain in Roxborough, he pointed to the vacant Citizens Bank building on Lyceum Ave. as being a possible location.

In contrast, Guet observed that a 3,000 square foot storefront would not be suitable for a sizable grocer.

“That’s the size of a large deli – that’s not going to go far,” he said.

Lipton speculated that the market would require approximately 6,000 square feet, but emphasized that “this is a guess” and that the final figure “depends on what the needs are of the market.”

Gina Snyder, Executive Director of the East Falls Development Corporation, explored a similar initiative for East Falls at one point. She emphasized the civic commitment necessary for such an enterprise to coalesce – and thrive.

“A project like this takes strong community involvement,” she said.

A long-term proposal

Lipton reiterated that, as this is a long-term proposal in its germinal stages, the shape of a proposed co-op could take many forms.

At present, she has four locations in mind that could meet requirements for the envisioned co-op, but as this plan will take two to four years to implement, “in four years they could be very different.”

She encouraged any interested individuals to attend a public meeting being held on April 18, venue TBA.

For further information, stayed tuned to Newsworks and visit the proposed co-op’s Facebook page.

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