Manayunk and Roxborough residents show strong support for neighborhood co-op

Maybe the most telling sign wasn’t the sheer size of the crowd that showed up for Wednesday night’s meeting about a possible food co-op in Manayunk and Roxborough, but the number of children they brought along.

While more than 200 adults crowded into a meeting room at Mishkan Shalom synagogue off Shurs Lane, more than two dozen small children played nearby, sometimes noisily. And their presence spoke volumes about the present and near-future state of the neighborhoods.

Elizabeth Trostle, who lives on Manayunk Avenue, listened as Weavers Way board president David Woo talked about the level of commitment — financial and physical — that would be needed to plan, create and operate a food co-op.

Afterward, as Emma, 2, and Owen, 3, played nearby, Trostle said her desire to raise her children in a healthy lifestyle was what brought her out.

“I love food, healthy food,” she said, but she’s tired of having to drive to Chestnut Hill or the Whole Foods in Plymouth Meeting to get it. “My whole thing is that I’m able to get that in my own neighborhood.”

Right now the movement to bring a Weavers Way-style co-op to the Manayunk-Roxborough area is in its early stages, but it has firmly, and quickly, taken root. Even David Schiman, the local acupuncturist who is a leader of the co-op effort, seemed stunned at the meeting turnout.

And while Woo was emphatic in saying Weavers Way has no plan or commitment to expanding to the neighborhood, it was clear many in the crowd were eager to at least associate with the popular 40-year-old, member-owned group.

Jane Lipton, executive director of the Manayunk Development Corp. and a longtime Weavers Way member, said she hoped the turnout would impress Woo enough that the longtime co-op with food stores in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill would get on board.

“David said to me, and to 10 other people in the room that he would get a lot of feedback based on this meeting,” she said. “Bring me 150, 200 [people], and you’ll have my interest.”

In a show of hands, more than two dozen people in the crowd identified themselves as current Weavers Way members, several others said they shop there but aren’t part of the organization.

In an interview, Woo said if the new co-op turned out not to be a Weavers Way, it wouldn’t undercut his own group. That co-op’s current member rolls are large enough to absorb either another location — though Woo said member loans would be needed — or some members migrating to a new co-op.

“Even if all these people were Weavers Way members and left us, it wouldn’t be a threat,” he said. “We’re making enough now that we could absorb something like that.”

To an audience question of what a co-op would cost members, Woo said that’s unanswerable at this point. Weavers Way costs members $400, with the investment spread over annual $30 installments.

While the idea was generated by a Main Street property owner whose building is empty and said her ideal tenant would be a Weavers Way, Lipton was adamant that no particular location had been chosen.

“Right now, I have four locations on Main Street that are large enough” for a co-op, Lipton told NewsWorks, and there are other potential sites in Roxborough. Committing the effort to one site this early could alienate potential alternatives, she said.

Bernard Guet, director of the Roxborogh Development Corp., is involved in the effort and will likely serve on a committee. Shoshona Bricklin, legislative aide to Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., was taking notes and gathering feedback and pictures, signaling the Councilman’s likely involvement. And as Woo noted, it also likely won’t hurt that U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah recently sponsored a bill calling for $25 million in funding to encourage urban food co-ops.

After the presentations, those interested were invited to sign up to serve on one of several committees — a steering group that will be early decision-makers, a finance and legal committee that would investigate logistical work to be done, and a membership and outreach committee to organize and market to potential members.

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 at azquinn@planphilly.com.

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