Over the last month, we’ve gotten hundreds of great questions from our website, at events and over email. Everyone wants to learn more about Chicago Market. Here are the answers to the top ten frequently asked questions about the Market.
1. Are you talking about a really-for-real grocery store?
Yes! We want the Market to be between 10,000 and 15,000 square feet (a typical Chicago storefront is about 1,000 square feet, while a typical traditional grocery store can be as much as 75,000 square feet). This will ensure we can stock all the products you need to do all your shopping in one place at a reasonable price.
2. What the heck is a co-op?
Glad you asked. A co-op (short for cooperative) is a type of company in which the Owners (each of you) make the decisions. Each Owner holds one share of stock, and Owners elect a board of directors who runs the store. Every Owner has a voice in the Market's direction and operation.
Chicago isn’t exactly a bastion of co-ops (we have only one grocery cooperative in the city) but in other cities, co-ops are an important part of the food system. Minneapolis has 12 different operating co-ops, including many huge, beautiful grocery stores.
3. Can this co-op thing actually make any money?
Some of you might be thinking: Aren’t co-ops those boring shops that stock whole grains? They're run by people in sandals and hemp, right? The answer: well, sometimes. But some of the world’s most-profitable corporations are cooperatives. Familiar names like R.E.I., Land O’Lakes, Organic Valley and Ace Hardware are cooperatives. It’s just another way of doing business – a way where each Owner has a voice in how the store is run.
4. What do I get when I become an Owner? Why should I do this?
Without Owners, this enterprise can’t get off the ground. You are our community, our supporters, our investors and our decision-makers. You get a voice in how this new business is run, what sorts of food we should stock, what farmers and food producers we should partner with, and what our prices will look like.
5. Who are you people and why should I trust you with my money?
That’s a fair question! Our steering committee is made up of nine dedicated individuals from different walks of life, all of whom care about local foods. The group includes lawyers, information technology specialists, journalists, event planners, photographers, bankers, financial wizards, parents, spouses, food buyers and local-food activists (clearly, some people fit in more than one box). Some have worked in co-ops or belonged to co-ops, and some haven’t but really want to.
Oh, and don’t worry – we don’t plan to run this grocery store ourselves. Like any other company, cooperatives hire experts to run technical things. Chicago Market will have a grocery manager, butcher, baker and produce expert. We’re just working hard behind the scenes to launch this store.
6. Where is the co-op going to be located?
This is the most-popular question we’ve gotten and, frankly, we can’t answer it completely. We can’t decide where the Market goes until we seat a board of directors at the end of this year. What we can say: it will be between Roscoe Village on the South, Edgewater on the North, the lake on the East and Albany Park on the West.
Do you really want a say in where the Market ends up? Does your neighborhood need it? The best way to have an influence is to become an Owner and have a voice.
7. What sorts of things will you stock there? What services will you provide?
We want to replicate some of the joy and bounty of shopping at a farmer’s market in a grocery store. Tons of varieties of fresh produce, grown by local farmers. The best imported and shipped products we can get, with information about exactly where everything comes from. A butcher, a baker and maybe even a candlestick maker! OK, probably not, but how about a juice bar instead?
One thing we are all committed to is transparency. Our customers should know exactly where everything is from, what ingredients everything contains and how every animal that produced our food was treated.
8. Why is this different from Jewel? Whole Foods? Mariano's?
Those stores are great, and they serve their neighborhoods in different ways. What they don’t have is a sense of community. As an Owner of Chicago Market, YOU -- not a corporate board in another state -- get to decide what we stock, how we source it and, often, what the prices are. You will be able to shop at the Market knowing that you are a part of it.
9. What happens if this doesn’t get off the ground?
We don’t like to admit that as a possibility, but let’s be realistic: you’re giving us your money and you have a right to know. If Chicago Market does not open, we intend to pay our Owners back with the money that remains (if any) after the operating costs, including costs of our launch campaign, are paid and our seed loan and any other loans are repaid.
This is a very viable business model, and more than 300 food co-ops are in business in the U.S. today. Want to see them in action? Here are four that we think are especially terrific: Common Ground Food Co-op, Wedge Food Co-Op, Cook County Whole Foods Co-op and Mississippi Market Food Co-Op.
10. How can I help?
First and foremost, become an Owner! After you’ve done that, become a recruiter yourself. After all, the Market is more likely to succeed the more people become involved. Get the word out. Ask us for posters and brochures, ask for help hosting a house party. Bring our founder or a member of our steering committee to speak at your home, workplace, church or community group. Talk about us on social media.
If you have any other questions, please submit them on our website. We answer each and every one of those questions personally, and we want your feedback. After all, you are Chicago Market.