Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Last Thursday the Swarthmore Co-op unveiled its new building in the Swarthmore Ville, in between Cheng Hing and the old Co-op. The new, more spacious store boasts a larger selection of products and a much more modern appearance making it easier for customers to collect what they want.
The Co-op was founded in 1937 as a group of people with the goal of providing an economical source of good produce. The members of the Co-op at that time would take turns driving down to the Philadelphia food distribution center to purchase food for everyone. Then, sometime between 1939 and 1945, the Co-op officially became a community store and took residence in a building that Jack Cavanaugh, current president of the Board of Managers, described as “at one point a car dealership, not exactly meant to be a store.” However the Co-op members made this location work for over 50 years.
Under the initial founding, residents of the Borough could join as a member of the Co-op for five dollars. Becoming a Co-op member primarily granted people the ability to run for the Board of Managers, which allowed the community to direct the actions of the store.
The ordeal of moving to a new store began a few years ago when an architect was brought onto the Board of Managers. The architect examined the structural status of the Co-op and determined that “it would have cost one to one and a half million dollars just to shore up the old store” according to Cavanaugh.
In addition to repairing the old store, the Board sought out other options such as moving to a new building more suited to hold the Co-op. However, as a part of the community they wanted to stay as near as possible to residents who relied on the closeness of the store. At one point they almost considered putting up a large tent in the Ville to house the Co-op while the old building was renovated, but a new option turned up when they found that the Borough had acquired money to put a new road through the property next to the Co-op.
After meeting, the Borough and the Board agreed it would be beneficial to both parties to trade the roughly equal sized properties; this would allow the Co-op to build a new store and put the road closer to the center of the Ville. However, the price tag for the new store was estimated at around two million dollars, which provided the next challenge for the move.
After contacting the National Cooperative Bank, which provides loans to co-operatives around the country, they found out that they could get a loan for all but around $650,000 of the costs. To get the remaining money the Co-op went to the community and raised money by increasing the minimum membership cost and enacting a multi-level investment based membership system. With the help of the community and a total of $50,000 from the college, the Co-op met its goal and began the project.
In the end everything went as planned; it cost a bit more than was estimated in the beginning, but was still under budget. The floor area of the new building is approximately double the 3,000 square feet of the old store, with all the products the old Co-op contained plus “expanded selections of organic foods, prepared foods, produce, seafood, and local products” according to Cavanaugh.
After what was called the “soft” opening, Cavanaugh commented that “sales are up…people are coming to the Co-op for specific products they had to buy at Genuardi’s before.” They are waiting on the official Grand Opening until the street is put in next to the store, most likely in the spring.
The new store also plans to focus on nutrition education for children, with the hope of getting kids to eat healthy early in their lives. As a community-oriented store, the Co-op’s mission is to provide what the community needs; “if a person comes in and asks for a specific product, 99 times out of 100 we will try to stock it” said Cavanaugh, adding that they just need to know what people want.