Ambler finally has its own community-owned grocery store - Generocity Philly

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Nov. 1, 2017 10:54 am

Ambler finally has its own community-owned grocery store

Plans for the store started back in 2012 with the formation of the Ambler Food Co-op. The group eventually entrusted the process to the more experienced Weavers Way, which opened its third store last week.

Weavers Way's Ambler store.

(Photo via instagram/weaversway)

Residents of Ambler have gone without a stable grocery store in their area for years. But that changed last Friday when cooperative grocery Weavers Way officially opened its Ambler location at 217 E. Butler Ave.

It’s the co-op’s third main store (Weavers Way has two smaller storefronts dedicated to things like wellness and pet supplies), as well as its first one outside Northwest Philly. It’s also Weavers Way’s largest store to date, bigger than its Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill locations combined, with 11,000 square feet of retail space.

Here are some other numbers about the store to consider, as provided by Mary Sweeten, communications manager for Weavers Way:

  • 85 parking spaces assigned to the store
  • 50 new employees
  • $4.3 million renovation of the building which used to be a Bottom Dollar that closed a little more than a year after opening

That $4.3 million renovation helped build nice-to-haves such as a café seating space and a full-service fresh meat and seafood case, but it also allowed for more economically conscious additions, such as all electricity in the building coming from sustainable sources and the flooring containing recycled materials.

And since the store is community-owned, that means paying members can have a say in anything they want changed about the store, like the kinds of products on the shelves.

Here’s one more number Jon Roesser, general manager of Weavers Way, provided via email: Weavers Way has signed up more than 1,000 new members since the original 500 or so members of Ambler Food Co-op (AFC), the group that started up in 2012 to open a community-owned grocery store, voted unanimously to join Weavers Way.

(Courtesy photo)

AFC members’ decisions to transfer all their assets to Weavers Way back in March meant their group would be no more. But it also meant a better chance of success in opening a store like the one they have now, entrusting the process to a co-op with plenty of experience and reach.

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“Raising capital is very intense and time-consuming, especially when opening a grocery store takes millions of dollars,” said Kathleen Casey, former president of AFC, in March about the difficulties of her group trying to secure the former Bottom Dollar location. “It is doubly hard when you’re raising capital on a project without a physical space to show.”

(This idea of nonprofit groups repositioning for the greater good is timely after a recent discussion concerning nonprofit financial health in the Philly area touched on how an organization’s survival shouldn’t necessarily be at the top of its stakeholders list.)

The difficulty and time commitment of opening a co-op grocery is certainly not a new revelation: Kensington Community Food Co-op (KCFC) and South Philly Food Co-op (SPFC) are still chugging along the path to opening their own stores.

KCFC detailed recently in its blog the arduous planning that will follow its Coral Street store groundbreaking that took place earlier this year, something a follow-up post mentioned is necessary to not only save a lot of headache for the future but also a lot of money. And SPFC detailed the design plans for its upcoming store at 2031 S. Juniper St. in a recent blog post.

Weavers Way ran into its own problems — construction-related delays and equipment malfunctions — trying to open the Ambler store, which was originally set to open this past July. Roesser sees the work being done by all co-ops like his as time-consuming but necessary.

“I could take advice from the folks at KCFC and SPFC,” he said. ‘These people have done a Herculean job with limited resources (and, for the most part, without pay).”

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