A first look at the South Philly Food Co-op, opening next week after a 10-year wait
The store opens its doors for the first time on Dec. 23 — and it'll be open on Christmas, too.
For some members of the South Philly Food Co-op, next Wednesday might feel like a day that would never happen. The full-service grocery store will finally open its doors to shoppers, 10 years after its inception.
A whole lot of planning, fund-raising, surveying, and organizing went into this moment — a backstory the Inquirer has covered before, for the SPFC and area co-ops in general — so instead we’ll address what anyone would want to know after a decade of waiting for a local grocery store to open: What can I buy, and when can I buy it?
The 3,300-square-foot store located at 2031 S. Juniper St., just north of Snyder Avenue, will open at noon on Wednesday, Dec. 23. After that, it will be open seven days a week, from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The co-op plans to be open Christmas Eve and for limited hours on Christmas Day. (General manager Lori Burge said she had yet to poll employees as to whether they wanted to work on New Year’s Day.)
Because of pandemic restrictions, only 12 customers will be allowed inside at one time. There are two checkout registers, as well as a mobile register. Lines are expected in the first few weeks; the co-op has ordered umbrellas to distribute to patient shoppers as they wait outside.
The store’s online shopping platform should debut on or close to Wednesday, Dec. 23, with local delivery offered by Philly-based service Bloc, which has a fleet of electric bikes. Curbside pickup will come a bit later.
Inside, newly installed shelves, coolers, and freezers — many of which are still being stocked — will be filled with pantry staples, canned goods, snacks, fresh produce, meats, cheeses, dairy, fresh baked goods, and bulk items such as nuts, flours, rices, and dried beans. And there’s an abundance of options for diet-restricted eaters of every stripe.
Expect to find a mix of products sourced nationally and locally, including those from Stryker Farms, Lancaster Farm Fresh, Zsa’s Ice Cream (and Bassetts, too), Third Wheel Cheese Co., Merzbacher’s, Soom Foods, Samuels Seafood, and Philly Fair Trade Roasters. A deli grab-and-go case and a hot coffee counter will be located toward the front of the store.
Burge said the roughly 5,000-item selection was informed by surveys of the co-op’s community, conversations with local vendors and producers, and sales data provided by its main distributor, United Natural Foods, Inc. Several truckloads of deliveries are expected in the days leading up to the opening.
Burge, produce manager David Thompson, and grocery and wellness department manager Christo Johnson “have been working to curate local products, as well as those tried-and-true favorites that you can expect to find in other natural-leaning grocery stores,” she said.
“Natural-leaning” means you won’t find Cheerios, say, but you will find Honest O’s. Expect Annie’s organic products or Newman’s Own over Kraft; Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur Flour instead of Gold Medal; Applegate frozen chicken nuggets rather than Perdue.
As for prices, the co-op has studied the local competition. Sprouts Farmers Market, two ShopRites, and two Acmes are within a mile-and-a-half radius, not to mention a healthy smattering of bodegas and a Rite Aid and Walgreens one block over. The co-op aims to be affordable, especially when it comes to basics such as bread, milk, rice, and beans, Burge said.
“We’re working to make sure that we’re paying special, conscious attention to those items that are essential in every pantry.”
There will be weekly sales for the general public, as well as exclusive sales for the co-op’s 1,400 members — a number it reached just this week. The membership equity investment was recently increased from $200 to $300, which was not only more closely aligned with other local co-ops, but also provided more capital for the store to get it through the final stages of opening. (A community equity fund subsidizes membership for those who can’t afford it, lowering the cost to a $5 initial investment and spreading out installments over a five-year period.)
The co-op will open with 13 staffers. Store clerks are paid a minimum of $11 an hour, and shift leads make at least $13 an hour. The co-op is raising additional funds to cover hazard pay, with the ultimate goal of increasing starting wages by $2 an hour. Staff will have access to health insurance, professional development, paid leave, and a store discount.
The co-op had envisioned throwing a block party when the store finally opened, but so goes 2020. They’ll pull off a big celebration later.
“We have a lot of time to welcome people in,” said Burge. “We’ll be here.”
The Philadelphia Inquirer is one of more than 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push toward economic justice. See all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.