Getting Their Share

The Kensington Community Food Co-op needs 800 members by the end of 2014. | Rendering by MAKE.

Kensington community embraces their nascent food co-op

Stephanie Singer and her husband, Mike, had been interested in joining a food co-op for years, so when she initially heard that the Kensington Community Food Co-op (KCFC) was coming to her neighborhood she was excited. But she concedes, “I was a little skeptical at first since I know these things can take years and years.” After attending the KCFC location announcement party at the Philadelphia Brewing Company’s tasting room on May 4, her reservations disappeared. “I was very impressed by the large turnout,” she says. “It felt like this was really going to happen. At that moment, we were ready to make our financial commitment, and we joined as members.”

Singer’s reaction was welcome news to KCFC board members and volunteers. KCFC’s multi-year search for a location came to an end last summer when they targeted the shuttered O’Reilly’s Pub at 2672 Coral St. The 4,200-square foot first floor and 1,110-square foot basement fit the spatial needs of KCFC’s feasibility study, and its location—just a half-block from Frankford Avenue —was ideal. But the bigger selling points were the patio area, the 18-car parking lot, and the liquor license that was attached to the building. Once the store opens, the 30-seat café will sell prepared food and local and regional craft beer that members will be able to enjoy at the space or take home.

But with every moving piece seeming to align perfectly for the KCFC board, the whole deal still almost fell through. As director-at-large Jeff Carpineta says, “During that time, the building was heavily vandalized, and a New Jersey bank foreclosed on the property. The co-op was in no position to buy the building and needed an angel [investor] to close the deal, and then two came.” Mike and Sue Wade, who had roots in the neighborhood, purchased the site, giving the co-op a generous lease with an option to purchase.

Mike Wade says their reasons for the loan were simple: “We helped out because we’re members, and we believe in the mission and the people behind KCFC. It is inspirational to us to watch these folks take a hands-on approach to improving their neighborhood, and we are honored to be a part of it.”

According to a 2008 census, Kensington has a population of 21,635. As new development has boomed in the past six years, bringing in many more new residents like Singer, there are still only two major grocery stores serving the neighborhood’s boundaries. So, a community based solution to this lack of food access certainly appealed to longtime residents like the Wades, and their newer neighbors.

Although KCFC now has a lease on the building, there is still much work to be done to open the fully operational cooperative grocery store envisioned by the board. Interim Director Timothy Dych says, “Our goal for the coming months is for our membership to grow significantly by encouraging our members-owners to assist in getting their friends, family and neighbors to join. We are also looking for members to work on our membership, marketing, planning and finance committees. These committees will chart the course we take to doors opening.” 

This will be a challenge, as the membership was at 500 members at press time, with 800 members needed by the end of 2014. These member-owners will be asked for member-loans to provide the key capital that banks and lenders require. If solid financing commitments are secured from banks and lenders, KCFC plans to start building and equipping the store in 2015, with a goal of fully opening in 2016. But as Dych points out, the members will ultimately determine that timeline, “KCFC is truly born of the people of the neighborhood, and will succeed or fail based on the support and hard work of our residents.”

If the dedication of members like Singer are any indication, meeting that timeline will not be a problem. “My husband and I love being part of a community,” says Singer. “It just feels right to invest in the long-term success of this neighborhood as we grow our family, and we are grateful that we can do that through KCFC.”

For more information on membership, visit kcfc.coop/membership or email info@kcfc.coop.