Chaka Fattah: Co-ops help bring democracy to the marketplace

Weavers Way Cooperative’s Mt. Airy store celebrated its grand re-opening on Saturday. While this location has been open for business since Sept. 9, Weavers Way used the past few weeks to fine tune its operations.

On Saturday, Weavers Way held a ribbon cutting ceremony, had live music and heard remarks from several local politicians who have been advocates for Northwest Philadelphia co-op. Congressman Chaka Fattah (D-Phila) on Saturday said he supports the co-ops because of the important role they play, “It’s almost a way to bring democracy into the marketplace.”

The store renovation

The co-op closed for renovations for nearly three months—which general manager Glenn Bergman said was an “almost unheard of” in the cooperative community.

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Renovations ranged anywhere from a bulk section upstairs, more energy efficient freezers, new flooring and lighting, as well as a whole new store down the street.

Bergman says he is pleased with the renovations and the positive support from the community. 

“We didn’t know if people would go across the street and shop, health and beauty are up 25-30 percent, the pet sales are up 40 percent,” he said. “[Customers] have said things like ‘my housing value has gone up,’…and ‘this place is too good for me now.'”

Spokesman Jon McGoran says sales at the Chestnut Hill store were also higher than expected along with the pop-up shop’s sales. He added also that the co-op completed the $700,000 worth of renovations with no loans, grants or public financing. The cooperative, however, now qualifies and has applied for a sizable energy efficiency grant.

McGoran said he invited local politicians because the co-op has been recipient to tremendous support from them.

Key supporters

Among those VIP in attendance—Congressman Chaka Fattah, Philadelphia City Councilwoman Cindy Bass (D-8th) and State Representative Dwight Evans (D-203rd).

Congressman Fattah said he attended because Weavers Way is a good thing for the community.

“This is the premiere co-op in the state,” he said. “This renovation speaks to a number of different issues at once. Not only further development and entrenchment here in Mt. Airy, but the energy efficiency side.”

Fattah is also an avid supporter of cooperatives and even introduced a Congressional bill to promote them at the national level—which he said he expects to pass.

“I introduced this legislation because I really think that both coops and employee-owned businesses are something we should be promoting more of,” he said. “Co-ops [are] a way to create economic opportunities in communities that are underserved or create opportunities for consumers to share in the economic prosperity of the business.”

In addition to the bill, Fattah says he has inserted language in the Commerce Department’s appropriations bill which will allow them to do an analysis of programs to determine how the government can further support cooperatives.

City councilwoman Cindy Bass, who has also been a Weavers Way member for over a decade, also attended the event and received a tour of the co-op.

“The principle that’s important to me is that it’s member owned,” she said. “It gives folks an opportunity to not give money to some corporate entity that’s not going to reinvest back into the neighborhood.”

As her first act as city councilwoman, Bass introduced a resolution to name 2012 the year of the co-op to help spread the word of the benefits they bring.

Weavers Way has celebrated the year of the co-op via banners, educational events and even hosted the National Cooperative Conference back in June.

Bass says she plans to further support cooperatives by promoting them to a solution in the district.

“As we work through some of the issues I think we’ll see that co-ops can actually solve some of the problems that we see in parts of the (council) district,” she said. “Those are the kinds of thinks we want to see throughout the 8th district—adding jobs, supporting community, reinvesting in community. It’s just so important, especially in this economy.”

Bass says the fact that Weavers Way added 10 new jobs after the renovation is proof of one of the benefits cooperatives can bring to a community.

Members will receive an additional five percent off through the weekend in celebration of the grand re-opening.

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