By way of background, the Swarthmore Co-op was founded in 1937 by local
residents in a garage during the depression in search of less expensive and
fresher food. The membership fee was $5 and that remained in effect until we
undertook our new project. They moved to the old store, which had 3,000
sq.ft. of retail space, in 1939 where it has serviced the community until
October 12, 2004. The co-op has always been more of a full service community
store where anyone can shop and anyone can join.
Late in 1998, 2 separate and serendipitous things occurred. One was that
the Co-op Board had a structural engineer do a study of the long term
viability of our old building, and his conclusion was that it would take $1
to $1.5 million just to shore up the foundation and roof and still do
nothing to improve the aging retail area. The Board started looking for a
new location, but in our small village there was nothing that would work.
At the same time the Borough was doing a business district strategic plan,
and out of that they received federal and state grant money to do a
streetscape project as well as funding to buy the property next to the co-op
in order to put a street through to improve parking and traffic flow.
The co-op saw this as the opportunity of a lifetime, so we went to the
Borough and ask that we buy the adjacent property, build a brand new
expanded store and then the Borough buy our property for the same price.
They would then put the street in that location after the new store opened.
The Borough saw that as the classic win-win solution and agreed to that
As the Board started looking at designs and construction estimates, we
realized that we were taking on a $2 million project for a store that would
double the retail space to over 6,000 sq.ft. Realizing that we needed to
raise significant funds, we used Bill Gessner of CDS and worked with the
National Cooperative Bank in order to come up with a plan. We raised the
membership fee to $300 and went out with a member loan program, with the
intent of revitalizing our cooperative values and having the shoppers view
it as a long term investment in the community. They results were spectacular
with over 720 members and 75 member loans that totaled over $640,000 which
included $50,000 from Swarthmore College. With that "equity" we were able to
get a construction loan from our local bank, First Federal, and the long
term loan from NCB.
On October 12, 2004 we closed the doors of the old store for good. Over 70
members helped move the stock into the new store and we opened on October
14. Over 200 members attended the ribbon cutting event and the store has
been the biggest thing to happen in town in decades! While we have only been
operation for 2 weeks, the members have been thrilled with the new space.
Many have commented that they now no longer have to go to Whole Foods or
Trader Joe's or the local chains. Our sale have averaged an increase of over
50% without doing any advertising as of yet. It is interesting to note that
our sales increased over 25% when we started the new member drive. We gave
each new member a nice canvas bag that said "Swarthmore Co-op - I own the
Next spring when the new street will be in the place of the old co-op and
the streetscape project is complete for the entire business district, the
town will be an entirely new and vibrant place with the new Co-op as the
center piece! It's a great example of how positive things can happen when
the entire community can focus on the same thing, and it seems a co-op by
it's very nature is a great way to do this.