Manayunk-Roxborough community to explore food co-op proposal this week

Perhaps the recent explosion of interest in creating a neighborhood food co-op in the Manayunk-Roxborough area is happening because 2012 is the United Nations’ International Year of Cooperatives, a worldwide salute to the business model.

Or it could just be a different sign of the times, a long-awaited evolution in Manayunk’s identity away from just being a place to party, to a place to put down roots. Think Park Slope, Brooklyn, without the drama and with lower rents.

But where to start? In Northwest Philly, you ask David Woo.

The president of board of directors of Weavers Way, the 40-year-old co-op with stores in Chestnut Hill and Mt. Airy, has been providing advice and background information to a nascent group exploring the creation of a co-op in the neighborhood. On Wednesday, he’ll headline a community meeting in Roxborough to gauge public interest and form committees.

To be clear, Woo said, this isn’t about Weavers Way looking to open another location. Having recently expanded its Chestnut Hill store, Woo said Weavers Way is focusing on making sure its own bills are paid, planning an overhaul of its Mt. Airy location, and, at this point, are only dispensing advice.

“We don’t have any plans to open a store in Manayunk or in Roxborough, but to us we are fulfilling cooperative principle number six, of cooperation among cooperatives,” he said.

Then again, Woo said, if by the time the Manayunk-Roxborough effort is fully developed, Weavers Way is in a position to grow, its members would consider it. It is, after all, a commercial enterprise.

“We’re not pure, we’re not a bunch of angry vegans,” he said. “In order for us to do good, we have to stay in business.” By comparison, it took about four years for Elkins Park’s Creekside Co-Op to go from its first community meeting to a groundbreaking in February.

The Manayunk-Roxborough effort is in its early stages, with a Facebook page gathering “Likes,” but a new food co-op in the neighborhood would enter an increasingly crowded grocery scene along the commercial corridor.

For several years in the 1990s, a Farmer’s Market operated in the building that most recently housed Restoration Hardware, hosting butchers, a fish monger, bakeries, gourmet coffee and flowers, drawing weekend crowds. But it’s long gone, and was always more about specialty purchases than everyday shopping.

These days, the grocery options are greater along Main Street, with the Palm Tree Market and Main Street Market offering general groceries along with higher-end specialty and gourmet products at one end of the commercial corridor. At the other end, CVS carries pharmacy items along with stop-at-the-store items like milk and bread.

Woo said he recently began talking informally to another group in Ambler, started by some of his former co-workers at sporting-goods retailer REI, a consumer-based co-op. In June, Weavers Way will host the annual Consumer Cooperative Management Association convention here in Philadelphia, a gathering of hundreds of nationwide co-op leaders.

In East Falls, a discussion on a neighborhood message board has led to similar talks there, though the two efforts are independent of each other, said Gina Snyder, director of the East Falls Community Development Corporation.

The Manayunk-Roxborough co-op meeting will take place at 7 p.m. Wednesday, at Mishkan Shalom, 4101 Freeland Ave., and is open to the public. NewsWorks will be there.

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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