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Weavers Way is celebrating 50 years of building community

“We’re all just kind of in this together,” said Jon Roesser, the general manager of the grocery co-op that started in Mount Airy in 1973.

Weavers Way in Mount Airy, pictured here in 2020, first opened in that Philadelphia neighborhood in 1973. Since then the food co-op has expanded to three locations, with a fourth on the way, and 11,000 member households.
Weavers Way in Mount Airy, pictured here in 2020, first opened in that Philadelphia neighborhood in 1973. Since then the food co-op has expanded to three locations, with a fourth on the way, and 11,000 member households.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Yukiko Kato loves making her way through the tight aisles of Weavers Way’s original store in Mt. Airy, plucking fresh, locally sourced goods from the shelves and looking over the bulletin board for information. She’s posted her own fliers there too, looking for someone to adopt her fostered dogs.

More and more over the 13 years since she became a member of the Weavers co-op, she’s come to understand that the real value in Weavers comes not just from the goods and other tangible things it provides, but also the community behind it all.

“Engaging community, that’s woven into the culture of [Weavers], the purpose of the co-op,” she said. “[It] creates a relationship. That’s the important thing,” she said.

This year, Weavers Way, the city’s largest grocery co-op, celebrates its 50th anniversary. Since its Mt. Airy store opened in 1973, Weavers has grown to three current locations with a fourth on the way, and 11,000 member households, or roughly 25,000 individuals.

» READ MORE: This Philly grocery store was ‘Mount Airy’s living room.’ Then came coronavirus.

Weavers plans to celebrate its golden anniversary throughout 2023 with a series of celebratory events at its stores, filled with food and music. There will be special food items available, like a signature anniversary sandwich, and promotions on the last weekend of each month where items will be on sale for the same price they were in 1973 — later in January, flour will be sold for 49 cents a pound. And finally, Weavers plans to conduct surveys and focus groups with its members to figure out its plans for the next five to ten years.

50 years is worthy of this kind of long celebration, especially for a smaller business. As other local stores have been replaced by large chains and the COVID outbreak shuttered businesses all over, Weavers Way has been resilient. Its members attribute that longevity to the cooperative model.

“We’re owned by the people who shop in our stores. So, as member owners, they have a relationship with the store that kind of transcends the typical customer relationship,” said Jon Roesser, the general manager of the Weavers co-op. He also pointed to Weavers’ reputation as an otherwise high-quality grocer and its reliance on local food systems as other sources of success. But Roesser said people have remained so invested in Weavers also because of its role in building community, particularly in the years before the pandemic.

“We [are] a place where everybody can come and be themselves and there’s no pretenses.”

Jon Roesser

“Our stores [have] functioned as community. [As] third places. They [are] community hubs. It wasn’t just a place to buy groceries. It [is] a place where you could look at the bulletin board and find a bike that was for sale or find an apartment for rent or adopt a cat. It [is] a place where your kids could get a summertime job. It was a place where you could run into your next door neighbors. Just a community gathering place that transcended just being a good grocery store,” he said.

Before it was paused due to the pandemic, Roesser’s favorite part of each week used to be the Friday night dinner that Weavers put on at its Ambler store. For just $4, anyone could come to the store for a full plate and a night of music performances and community.

“We were getting between 450 and 600 people every Friday night. And we had to set up tables in the freezer aisle [to seat everyone],” he said. Roesser explained how they collected enough money so that the meal could be free for anyone who couldn’t afford the four dollars. But he said people rarely ever took that opportunity, even if it was clear that they were stretching. “They wanted to pay. They weren’t looking for a handout. They wanted to be part of a community event,” he said.

“It’s like plugging into this community where people ... give a bleep about each other, the planet, what they’re putting into their bodies,” said Carly Chelder about Weavers. She has been a co-op member since 2007 and was part of the group who helped plan and generate support to build Weavers’ largest store in Ambler several years ago.

“In a world where people are isolating a lot and choosing fewer social interactions ... it happens to me too. [Sometimes], I don’t want to deal with people. [But] sometimes, the co-op is the opposite of that. It’s maintaining that humanity,” she said.

» READ MORE: In a ‘modern-day Rocky story,’ members step up to save Kensington Community Food Co-op

“The co-op is a safe space. ... You can be who you are. And that’s part of the awesomeness about Weaver’s Way, is that we attract misfits and oddballs. I consider myself one of them,” Roesser said. “We [are] a place where everybody can come and be themselves and there’s no pretenses. And people with plenty of money are rubbing shoulders with people who don’t have a lot of money. And you can’t really tell the difference necessarily. And we’re all just kind of in this together.”

Weavers plans to open its fourth store in Germantown this October. Kato, who lives in Germantown, has been involved with the store’s planning committee. It’s taken her outside of her comfort zone, but so far she has enjoyed the process of working with her fellow co-op members and engaging with other people in her community to learn what matters to them.

“This is still a challenge, but [we are] trying to reach out and then trying to think about the way for them to [access] this basic, fresh food [more easily],” she said. Kato believes it’s important for a store like Weavers to be available in a lower-income, diverse neighborhood like Germantown. She hopes more people can have the experiences she’s had.

“I’m hoping ... to pass [Weavers] on [for] the next 50 years [to] somebody else,” she said.