When your neighborhood doesn't provide the products and services you desire, you can get in your car and drive somewhere else, or you can do something to permanently bring what you need to your neighborhood. A group of northeast Denver residents living in and around Stapleton, Park Hill, East Colfax, Lowry, Montclair and North Aurora are doing just that. Frustrated by a lack of grocery outlets dedicated to local, natural and organic meats, dairy and produce, they formed the Northeast Community Co-op with the goal of opening a market in the area. Currently at 300 members, the co-op hopes to recruit an additional 600 members by the end of the year and another 600 by the time the market opens, sometime next year.
According to Thomas Spahr, who currently chairs the co-op's board of directors, a number of locations have been considered, and feasibility studies for all of them have been completed -- each showing a higher-than-expected revenue projection (meaning the demand is there). Of the locations, Spahr mentions the Stanley Marketplace, a planned 100,000-square-foot retail center that will transform the vacant Stanley Aviation Building on the edge of Stapleton and Aurora, as a potential home for the 9,000-square-foot co-op, which will include space for produce, meat and dairy, baked goods, bulk and packaged goods, home goods and even a coffee and juice bar.
Initially, the group formed to court natural and organic grocers, such as Sprouts and Vitamin Cottage, but were unable to gain traction with those companies. So instead they decided that a member-owned co-op was the way to go. "A big part is educating the public about what a co-op is," says Spahr, adding that the member-owned markets are not as common in Colorado as they are in other parts of the country.
Although the market will be open to the public, members actually own a percentage of the co-op and share in profits from sales. Membership in the Northeast Community Co-op Market (NCCM) runs $200 per person as a one-time buy-in, with benefits that include voting on the board of directors, earning cash dividends (when the co-op becomes profitable) and receiving shopping discounts or coupons.
The concept revolves around environmental stewardship, a connection with local farmers and a sense of community, but what the store stocks and sells ultimately relies on member demand. As an example, Spahr notes that "there are no such thing as local avocados" in Colorado.
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To raise awareness and spark membership, the NCCM is hosting the Rock the Food Co-op Fall Food Festival on October 4 at Founder's Green in Stapleton. More information about membership can be found on the co-op's website.