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West Chester eyes grocery of its own

Residents of West Chester say they want to buy local groceries - and they want to buy them locally.

Residents of West Chester say they want to buy local groceries - and they want to buy them locally.

That is the conclusion of a study released last week by the West Chester Food Cooperative.

It's been years since the borough had a full-service grocery store - the nearest one is outside the borough border - and people have long talked about bringing one into town. "There's a need for a grocery store and a desire for people to support fresh local produce and products," said West Chester Mayor Carolyn Comitta.

That's exactly what the people behind a proposed food co-op hope to bring to the borough.

After months of planning, the co-op will start member sign-up next week, kicking off the next phase of the community project.

The co-op is coveting the historic post office building on Gay and Walnut Streets, which the U.S. Postal Service has indicated it intends to sell so it can move to smaller quarters.

The co-op would like to share the space with the post office, allowing the Postal Service to use a small area of the building, said Suzanne Adams, chair of the cooperative.

"We think it's a great synergy," Adams said. "You pick up your mail, you stop over at the food co-op, have a latte."

The Postal Service has not made a decision, said spokesman Ray V. Daiutolo.

"We are looking into the feasibility of retaining the post office operation in the building in case a decision is made to sell the building," Daiutolo said.

Co-op leaders say such a plan would have the extra benefit of preserving public access to the building, which Preservation Pennsylvania classifies as an at-risk historic site.

The group is also scouting other potential locations, she said.

But it needs capital.

The West Chester co-op will need about 1,000 member-owners before it can lease or buy a property, Adams said.

Cooperatives are owned by community members who run the business democratically. Member-ownership is open to everyone but is not required for shopping at the co-op.

Member-ownership is $400 for an equity stake, with the option for a payment plan. Adams said the co-op would offer financial assistance for people who cannot afford the cost.

Leaders also hope to get a state grant and will apply for other public funds to help finance the project, said Malcolm Johnstone, executive director of the West Chester Business Improvement District, which is working with the co-op.

"We're probably a year away from . . . actually being in a financial position to sign a deal for a property," Adams said.

On March 15, a community meeting at 3 p.m. at the Sprout Music Collective will provide information and start membership sign-ups.