Emmetsburg Food Pride, to a co-op can shorten the process, says
Stuart Reid, executive director of Food Co-Op Initiative.
“What takes time is that you have to do business organization,
get incorporated as a cooperative and write bylaws,” Reid says.
“Then you have to sign on owners, ‘members’ as they are typically
called, who make a one-time investment of $100 to $300 per person to own a share in the store.
“Some co-ops allow members to buy more than one share, but
they can never have more than one vote in electing board of director members, so it is a very democratic organization. The big issue
of getting started is where does the rest of the money come from.”
That can come from the local bank or wealthy residents who
make a loan, Reid says.
The good news for small towns is that cooperatives are on an
“Co-op development sort of happens in waves, and we’re going
into the third wave now,” Reid says. “In the last 10 years more than
100 co-ops have opened and I’m working with 125 communities.”
Nonetheless, the Heartland continues to lose stores.
Since the Center for Engagement & Community Development
started operation in 2008 with the goal of stopping the loss of
independent, rural grocery stores, Kansas has permanently lost 32
of its 213 small-town supermarkets, or 15 percent of the total, says
Procter. In both 2008 and 2009, six stores closed, seven in 2010,
two in 2013, and five apiece in 2014 and 2015.
“I think we’re going to slow the trend of closing,” he says. “When
you see population numbers just continue to go down and down,
it is hard to ultimately overcome that. But there are some grocery
stores in some super small towns that are successful. We feel good
BIG APPLE PARALLEL
Small-town rural America is not the only place where the traditional supermarket is
an endangered species—they are becoming increasingly rare in New York City as
well. Gentrification and its accompanying skyrocketing rents and redevelopment are
mostly to blame, although last year’s bankruptcy of A&P saw dozens of New York
City Pathmark, Waldbaum’s and The Food Emporium units shutter.
Manhattan’s latest casualty is the Associated supermarket on W. 14th Street,
which serviced the now trendy Chelsea, West Village and Meat Packing District
neighborhoods. A W. 14th Street mainstay for decades, it was forced out by rising
rents. Associated’s landlord sought to triple its rent from $32,000 a month to
$104,000 a month—for a 6,000 square-foot store.
“It’s crazy,” says Carlton McQuilkin, the store manager. “With the levels of margin
that we work with, that’s unmanageable. Maybe double, but triple is way too much.”
Local residents, politicians and community leaders staged rallies outside of the
store that received coverage on the radio and the local CBS TV news; petitions
were signed and online efforts were undertaken, but it was all for naught, as the
landlord refused to back down from the $104,000 figure. McQuilkin says loyal
shoppers took the news hard.
“I’ve had customers that when they heard word that we were closing, they just
started crying in front of me. It’s tough. It’s tough,” McQuilkin says, his own voice
starting to crack. “We are like a neighborhood store. There are people that have
lived here for years and years and you get to know everybody. We were an afford-
able market, especially for the older clientele on fixed incomes. It is hard for them
to go on the subway and we deliver within a 10-block radius.”
In recent years the neighborhood has lost a Gristedes and two D’Agostino
stores. There is a Westside Market a block up 14th Street, but McQuilkin says they
are “a little on the pricey side,” while the new Mrs. Green’s is “very expensive.”
He adds, “There is a Western Beef on 9th, but from what I hear from my custom-
ers, they’d much rather come here. They say the level of service and the quality is
better and they like our overall atmosphere and friendliness towards the customers.”
Shoppers are not the only ones heartbroken; 40 Associated workers also lost
“We have two other stores on the Eastside. They are fully staffed, but we are
trying to move people,” McQuilkin says. “I have some employees that have been
fortunate enough to find other employment and saying goodbye to them is hard. I
just said goodbye to a guy that has been with the company for 20 years. Some of
my workers have had to walk away because their eyes started welling up.”
Associated closed on May 15. McQuilkin had no idea what would come in next.
“It might be some kind of boutique. They will probably gut the building and totally
redo it. The way things are going they will probably cut it in half. Two doors down
they just put up a 15-story building and are asking $2 million for a studio. The crazy
thing is that somebody will pay it,” he says.
Associated is not the only New York supermarket finding itself in a vise.
D’Agostino which bills itself as “New York’s grocer” has also closed stores, the
most recent its longtime Murray Hill location on Third Avenue and 35th Street. At its
peak, Larchmont, N. Y.-based D’Agostino operated 26 stores in New York City and
neighboring Westchester County. It is now down to eight stores, and according to
news reports may close another two, and slash dozens of jobs at its remaining units.
And Fairway—the upscale chain with a once fanatical following known for its
produce, meat, seafood, deli and gourmet foods—whose rapid expansion ate into
the sales of those traditional supermarkets filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy restructuring in May, casting its own survival into doubt.