You’ve got questions. We’ve got answers.
Frequently Asked Questions:
- What can Shoppers Expect?
- Board of Directors and Governance
- Store Policies
- Accessibility and Inclusion
What can shoppers expect?
What will the Co-op be like? How big will it be?
The Co-op will be a big, bright, welcoming store that will have all of the products you need for your whole grocery shopping experience: local produce, meat and dairy, prepared foods, frozen foods, baked goods, a coffee and juice bar, and more. Chicago Market will have just over 13,000 square feet of retail space (a typical Chicago storefront is about 1,000 sq. feet; a traditional conventional grocery store can be as much as 75,000 square feet). This will ensure that we can carry a wide variety of products, sell local meat, baked goods and prepared foods, provide many other services, and be large enough to negotiate reasonable pricing for our shoppers. And our focus on sustainability means we'll work to reduce packaging where possible; we'll have an extensive bulk section and encourage fill-your-own containers; and we'll be sure to compost.
Where will the Co-op be located?
After visiting and evaluating dozens of locations, in June of 2017, Chicago Market put in a bid with the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to be the tenant of a property called the Gerber Building located on the northwest corner of Broadway and Wilson at the Wilson CTA Station. We attracted a lot of community interest and support with our bid, and in early May of 2018, the CTA announced that our bid was accepted and that a lease had been signed. Over the course of 2020 we renegotiated that lease and are re-signing in early 2021. (read about that here)
A rich part of Uptown history, the building was designed by architect Arthur U. Gerber in 1923 and is part of the CTA’s recently completed $203 million restoration and transit improvement project. This particular location is easy to access from the Red and Purple Line trains and the Broadway and Wilson bus lines. There is a Divvy station right across the street and additional bike parking in the area. For the folks who like to drive, there is off-street parking in the back of the building exclusively for Chicago Market shoppers. Pedestrians can also easily access the building with the very visible entrance right on the northwest corner of Broadway and Wilson. It really is a beautiful building with a great location.
Chicago Market is very excited to have a new home but the space is an empty shell. It will be expensive to build out and requires Owner loans and donations to fund construction.
What are the next steps? What does the build-out look like?
Now that we have a lease and preliminary store design plans, the real fun begins… We'll be engaging architects and designers for the next design work and store plans.
This process will take longer than people expect because as a grocer we need to run each and every design concept through cost considerations before we decide it will definitely end up in our store.
For example, we may say we would like to have an in-house bakery. And while the concept of having freshly made, artisan bread baked right on premises would be ideal, we have to consider the costs. Having an in-house bakery means specific equipment - bread ovens and the like - which can be expensive. It also requires that we bring in employees very early in the morning to start baking for the day which adds to our payroll hours. And because those employees need specific skill sets and/or training, and we want to provide a living wage to our employees, the payroll costs go up even more.
When we run the numbers it may end up that having an in-house bakery isn’t in the cards for us. Or we may decide we want it so badly that we decide to give up some other design element in order for our budget to work out appropriately. Either way, the designs may have to change after we run the numbers and determine what we can and can’t afford.
Because we will need to do this with every area of the store - produce, coffee and juice bar, bulk foods, etc. - this back-and-forth design process takes time to complete. In addition to the iterative design process, we will also have to get approval from the CTA for our designs and secure permitting from the city for what we want to build. As one would imagine, this will also take time.
When is the store going to open?
Now that we have a site we have to reach several milestones and achievements in order to open our Co-op. The longer it takes us to reach these milestones, the longer it will take to open our store.
First of all, as with any new business, we need to raise the funds it will take to secure bank financing to build out our store. In order for lenders to loan us money, we need to show Owner equity in the project and proof that our Owners have skin in the game too. This means we need to grow to 3,500 Owners minimum in order to secure bank funding.
We also need to raise $1.45M from Owners and members of the community through our Capital Campaign. If we are not able to grow our Owner numbers sufficiently and raise enough capital, we won’t be able to open our store, so these things are critical. Instead of focusing on a timeline based around dates, we have to focus on a timeline based around Owner growth and funding. With over 1,900 Owners right now, if every current Owner convinced just one more person to join our community, we would reach our goal quickly!
In addition to growing our Ownership and securing funding, we have the other tasks of designing the store, getting the appropriate permits, hiring a Project Manager, and coordinating the construction timeline.
Why does it take so long to open a food co-op?
When a large corporation (like a Target or a Mariano’s) goes about opening up a store location, they may take just as much time on feasibility and market studies, and they may consider possible locations for many years before diving in. The public just doesn’t see all that work. They first get wind of the store opening when construction starts. Yes, we’ve been working on Chicago Market since 2013, but because we are a co-op, all of our organizing, feasibility, and planning work has been out in the public eye.
We also have the challenge of raising the Owner equity in our project one person/one Owner at a time in small amounts. Because of the democratic nature of our Owner shares, we don’t have the same opportunity to identify 2-3 equity partners that will invest a huge amount of the funding we need to open. We have to do it one small, but equal, Owner at a time. And that takes time.
Also, co-ops are about community - which is why we have that word right in our name - Chicago Market: A Community Co-op. Community-building that is based on respect, diversity, and inclusion also takes time. We’ve been working to find like-minded individuals that share the vision and values of our community and encourage them to join us. If only a handful of Owners and volunteers engage in that work, it takes longer, so we ask that all Owners help us share the vision of Chicago Market with their social circles and encourage folks to join us. If every current Owner gets 1-2 other Owners to join, we will meet our goals easily!
Lastly, this is a purely volunteer endeavor. Most of the heavy lifters of this project are individuals with a passion for the project, but full-time jobs and families that also deserve their attention. The only reason we’ve come this far is because folks have leaned in to help make it happen. We don’t (yet) have a dedicated staff focused solely on building the business for us. Right now, it’s just us. So, please consider volunteering to help us make this project a reality.
What kind of products will the store carry?
Chicago Market will sell a wide range of products. We will sell produce, meat, dairy, bakery items, prepared foods, frozen foods, grocery items, alcohol, and bulk foods. Our emphasis will be on local foods, purchased in accordance with our Purchasing Values. But we also plan to carry everything that a family needs to buy during a weekly grocery trip, from granola to garbage bags and from tomatoes to toothpaste.
What makes it different from regular grocery and natural food stores? How will it compare to other co-ops?
Unlike traditional grocers, co-ops are owned and governed by the people in their community and are rooted in principles like democracy, sustainability, accountability, and community. Co-ops are local people working together for better food, stronger communities, and a healthier world.
With our focus on the local foodshed of the Midwest, you’ll find a much greater selection of seasonal and local items in our store than you would find in a national chain. Our farmer partners will be more than “suppliers;” our store will be a place where you’ll feel they are part of our community, like your favorite farmers market. You’ll find a greater commitment to sustainable operations; community development initiatives; educational, health, and social programs; and programs to welcome economically diverse shoppers to our store.
Will Chicago Market have…?
Will Owners be able to special order? Will the Co-op have delivery? Will we have a community meeting space? Will we have a community kitchen? Child care? A garden or greenspace? Services like nutrition consultants and butchers? Products that are vegan or gluten free? We’d love to offer all of these items (and more) and will be exploring these and other suggestions with our Project Manager, our General Manager, and our Owners as we design and build the store.
Some of the decisions on what we will be able to offer will be based on the design of our store, what can fit in the space, the cost of the equipment needed, and the labor expense associated with the product or service. Some products or services may cost more than others to provide, and we have to weigh the sales they will generate against the expenses they will incur to determine the feasibility of offering them. If you care about bringing a particular product or service to Chicago Market, and if you are willing to work to make it your dream grocery store, the best thing you can do is become an Owner, join one of our volunteer committees, or email [email protected] for more information.
What will transit, bike and parking options be?
Chicago Market is deeply committed to serving both the pedestrian and public transit communities. From the beginning, that’s been part of our business plan, and the guidelines that were developed by our Site Selection team included both density of customers within walking distance and proximity to public transit and bike parking. At the same time, we hope to make our store a citywide destination, and many of our Owners have told us that parking is important to them. This is why the Gerber Building at the CTA Wilson Station is such an ideal property. It meets our priorities for having proximity to public transportation (both buses and trains), it includes bike access and nearby Divvy stations, it is easily accessible to pedestrians, and it includes parking. It’s the best of all worlds.
Can I volunteer?
Yes! We are an organization founded and built by volunteers, and we welcome your interest. We recommend you check out the volunteer opportunities posted on our website. If you don’t see something there you want to assist with, email [email protected] and tell us a bit about your experience, skills, passion, what you’d like to learn about or get involved with. We send out regular updates on our top volunteer needs, and if you “Sign up to receive our newsletter” at the bottom of any of our website pages, you’ll be added to our email distribution list.
I am so excited! What can I do to help?
We’re so glad you asked! Our three critical needs right now are funding, Owner engagement and more Owners. There are several things you can do to help:
- Tell your family, friends, co-workers, fellow church-goers, exercise partners, teachers, students, customers, high school friends, clients, neighbors, EVERYONE YOU KNOW… about Chicago Market! Be ready to give them our website and encourage them to join us!
- Send an email out to your social circle about us or share a post on social media. We have templates you can use or check out our Owner Toolkit for additional ideas.
- Tell folks to attend our upcoming Ownership Info Sessions. We schedule them regularly and are more than happy to talk about what we’re doing and answer any questions folks have. Check out our Events page for details you can share.
- Ask a Board Member to come to an event you are hosting to talk about the Co-op to event attendees. We are available and will happily tell people about our project.
- Put a yard sign in your yard, window or back deck to advertise you are an Owner and get our name out into your neighborhood and block. You’d be amazed how many people tell us they heard about us by seeing yard signs.
If any of these things sound interesting to you - COME JOIN US!
How do I bid to provide professional services or introduce my product to the Co-op?
If you have general questions about the Co-op, or you are looking to provide services, send an email to [email protected]. If you’re interested in selling your products at the store, send an email to [email protected].
I have an idea or question about… Ownership, site/architecture, marketing/collaborations, events/programming. Who should I contact?
Email [email protected] and share your ideas and questions with us. We welcome input from our Owners and community!
How does Ownership work? Do I have to pay every year?
Ownership is a one-time commitment, a $250 or $500 investment, that covers your whole household. The $250 (Founding Owner) or $500 (Cultivating Owner) levels provide the same benefits and rights; we offer the Cultivating Owner level for those who feel that much more strongly that they’d like to see us get started and succeed, and we’ll create a special acknowledgement for these folks in our store. A household is defined as all of the children and adults who live at the same physical address. If you share a refrigerator, you’re a household. Household Owners can all shop and access the same discounts, promotions and programs available to other Owners. One Owner is designated as the Voting Owner.
Founding Owners can always Level Up! to Cultivating Ownership whenever they like here.
Do you have a payment plan?
We are committed to making Ownership accessible for all members of our community. Owners can pay all at once or choose to take advantage of our payment plans. You choose how many payments you want and how much you want to pay. You can split the total cost of Ownership into as many as 10 payments of $25 each. Once we are open, we are committed to working with our Owners and our larger community to find even more ways to welcome economically diverse neighbors into our store, as shoppers as well as Owners.
We also offer our All Are Welcome payment plan as a pathway to Ownership for those on limited incomes, experiencing financial instability, or participating in programs like LINK, SNAP, WIC, or SSI/SDI.
Why should I buy an Ownership now instead of waiting until Chicago Market opens?
Because we need Owners to contribute capital to build the store and to prove to outside lenders that we have Owner commitment to the project. If everyone waits to become an Owner, we won’t have a store. We’ve got more than 1,900 Owners right now, and our goal is to have more than 2,000 soon and 3,500 by the time we ask a bank for a loan. We need your help to recruit more people who care about local food in order to ensure the success of our Co-op.
What do I get for my Ownership?
So much! First, you get an amazing co-op grocery store to shop at. You give members of your community great jobs, give farmers the opportunity to have a full-time, reliable local market, which helps them to plan and grow their business. You give the Earth the benefit of sustainable farming, production, and distribution practices. You support good paying jobs and programs that will benefit your community.
Additionally, Owners will receive discounts on classes and workshops or be able to take advantage of Owner-only sales. You also have decision-making power: you can vote and run for the Board of Directors. In years of excess profit, Owners will receive a share of those profits in the form of a patronage refund (an annual check based on the amount of your purchases at the Co-op). Before the store opens, we’re regularly offering Owners discounts at partner businesses, access to great local food events, a say in how our store gets built and stocked, and the chance to find out before anyone else what Chicago Market will look like.
Can a business be an Owner?
Yes! We welcome local businesses that share our values and want to create change in Chicago’s foodshed. Businesses get the same benefits as individual Owners. You’ll designate a Voting Owner-representative of the business to vote in any elections. Your business gets the same Owner discounts and yearly patronage refunds for business-related purchases. Chicago Market business Owners also get the benefit of our huge network of locally focused Owners and followers. We support our business Owners through a special directory on our website, as well as through social media and other regular communications. We hope to do events with business Owners, and to offer special discounts and deals for Chicago Market’s community in collaboration. You’ll help Chicago Market open a big, bright, beautiful co-op, but at the same time, we’ll grow a stronger local, sustainable economy together.
What happens if I move away, too far to shop at Chicago Market, or I simply no longer want to be an Owner?
Of course, we hope you’ll remain an Owner of Chicago Market in order to help us grow and succeed. Some co-ops also offer reciprocal benefits to other co-op Owners, so you should look for a food co-op near your new home and ask! Chicago Market's Board of Directors has clarified and updates our our buy-back policy here. An Owner may sell or transfer their Ownership to another person at any time. If you have any questions about this, please reach out to us at [email protected].
What happens with my $250 if the Co-op fails to open?
While we’re optimistic about the future of Chicago Market, this is a reasonable question from any Owner. The answer is simple: If Chicago Market fails to open, we will return money to our Owners, minus the expenses incurred in our startup efforts (e.g., Ownership campaign, site search, producing collateral, running our website, hiring real estate agents and other specialists). Depending on the amount of these expenses, there may be nothing to return in terms of Owner equity. Everyone on the Board is an Owner of the Co-op, so we’re as committed as you are to carefully managing our costs and our financial health.
Board of Directors and Governance
How does the Board of Directors operate?
The Board is made up of up to 15 people. The first Board was elected in late 2014. Elections are held annually, per our Bylaws, at our Annual Owners Meeting. The Board appoints members as needed between elections, to fill any unexpected vacancies; these appointed Board members are then ratified by election at the next following Annual Owners Meeting. Check out our entire Board here.
At this stage of our growth, we are a working Board that is actively engaged in the process of building Chicago Market. We gather community input, and work with other volunteers to oversee the development and strategic direction of the Co-op. Being a Board member means representing our community of Owners with responsibility and transparency. Per our Bylaws, duties of the Board of Directors include but are not limited to “overseeing the operations and finances of the co-op, establishing policies to guide operational decisions, hiring, monitoring, evaluating, compensating and firing the General Manager, securing good conditions of employment and reasonable employee benefits for all co-op employees, and assuring the purpose and mission of the co-op are properly carried out.”
How long is a term for the Board of directors?
Each director serves a 3-year term.
Is there diversity on the Board of directors?
Chicago Market has a strong commitment to diversity, and we desire to have as many communities represented on our Board as possible. Our Board is diverse in age, income, gender, religion, and sexual orientation, as well as representing various dietary needs and choices. But… we know that we can do better! As an Owner-run organization with an elected volunteer Board, people have to put themselves forward to run or volunteer. If you’d like to volunteer, talk about joining our Board of directors or connect us with your community, please email us at [email protected]. We especially encourage the interest of Owners of color and those who are part of the amazing variety of cultural communities in our neighborhoods.
How will Chicago Market be funded?
Chicago Market will be funded through a variety of sources. Owners will make up a big part of our funding, in the form of their Ownership equity, but also through Owner Loans and donations. These are long-term loans to the Co-op under a variety of competitive interest rates and are paid back by the Co-op’s financial success. It’s more akin to social investment than speculative investing, and it follows the core co-op philosophy: Owners contributing to the common good for the benefit of all Owners. Our first two Owner Loan Campaigns raised approximately $600,000, well below our anticipated need. Additionally, co-ops are funded by a combination of loans from banks and foundations, city funding (such as TIF) and grants from organizations that support healthy food and access to local products. For more information, or if you know of a source of funding we should explore together, drop us a line at [email protected].
What is an Owner Loan Campaign?
Food cooperatives use owner loans to provide additional owner funding for the costs of starting a co-op. Owner loans, in addition to Ownerships, provide a demonstration of community support for Chicago Market and are a major component of our fundraising efforts. The Owner Loan Campaign is not the only source of funds for us; however, financial institutions and granting agencies regard Owner loans as a true test of the support of the community for the Co-op. If you support us, join us, and plan on participating with a loan.
Who is going to run the store?
The Board will oversee a General Manager who will run the store day-to-day.
Will people be able to volunteer in the store?
There is no work requirement to be a co-op Owner at Chicago Market. Once the store opens, we will hire people to work in the store. There are laws against using volunteers as substitutes for regular paid labor, and we hope to build a professional, well-paid staff that offers fair wages, skills development, and career advancement for people in our community. There will be plenty of volunteer opportunities via community initiatives, programs and partnerships. And meanwhile, in our current setup and building phases of Chicago Market, there are a ton of opportunities for volunteers - our entire startup organization is built around them. Check out the volunteer opportunities on our website or email [email protected] for more information.
When will you be hiring? Will you pay more than other stores? Will you offer health insurance?
Most of our employees will come on board when we have a store in place; we may have a few paid positions before that, so watch our email and social media accounts for openings. We are committed to paying fair wages and benefits and bringing great jobs to our community. The extent of the benefits we offer will depend on what is financially feasible for the Co-op while still meeting the needs of our employees. Our goal is to provide a real living wage to our full and part time employees, and to hire people who are excited about a career in food and serving our community. This will be more than just your average retail job.
What will be your purchasing guidelines?
The Board of Directors, in collaboration with a robust group of volunteers, farmers and food producers, has created a set of Purchasing Values that will guide everything Chicago Market puts on our shelves.
Will you only sell local foods? Will you be organic? Will you sell food with GMOs?
Our first and foremost goal is to feature the wonderful local foods we have in our area and to nurture relationships with growers and producers in our hyperlocal, local, and Midwest region. We will not be all organic, however we expect to have a very large inventory of organic food. Our emphasis is on local, sustainable, and organic items but most importantly, we will have clear and transparent information about everything so you’ll always know what you’re buying. One of our goals is to promote honest food and transparent labeling so we can empower consumer choice and discretion with the best information. Chicago Market advocates for socially responsible food with integrity and chooses to prioritize non-GMO products during sourcing and procurement.
What are you doing to welcome lower-income, economically diverse folks into the Co-op community?
Chicago Market’s Mission Statement includes the following: “we support service to diverse communities, good-paying jobs, local economic development, environmental stewardship, accountability and social responsibility.” At this time, we’re unable to offer discounts on Co-op Ownership, but we do offer our All Are Welcome payment plan as a pathway to Ownership for those on limited incomes, experiencing financial instability, or participating in programs like LINK, SNAP, WIC, or SSI/SDI. Further, we invite everyone, not just Owners, to join us at most of our events and programs, or as volunteers so they can engage with us and help actively shape our community. Once the store opens, we hope to accept services like SNAP and LINK, and to offer other services or opportunities for economically-diverse customers as many of our co-op brethren do, including sponsored or reduced-price Ownerships, and more. Meanwhile, if you have ideas or want to get involved in this area, we’d welcome that! Email [email protected] to get involved.
Will Chicago Market support fair labor practices on farms and from producers? Will Chicago Market support animal welfare?
Yes. Chicago Market’s Purchasing Values include: “We build relationships with vendors whose business practices support the environment, the community and fair labor. Being socially responsible at Chicago Market means we consider what practices are part of our supply chain as we source the products that stock our shelves. Our suppliers raise crops in ways that nurture and protect the soil, air and waterways while caring for their farm workers and providing a fair wage. Their animals are treated humanely from birth to processing.”
How will Chicago Market compare to farmers markets? Will you compete with farmers markets?
Chicago Market acts in cooperation with, and not in competition with, farmers markets. We’ll offer a large, new, predictable marketplace for farmers to grow their customer base. They’ll be able to count on shoppers for their goods seven days a week, year-round, and rain or shine. We’ve already spent time hosting “Listening Sessions” with local farmers and producers because our Mission calls for us “to treat farmers and vendors not as cogs in a supply chain, but as members of our community.” We’ve got other ideas for partnering with farmers too, like buying short-dated produce after farmers markets and processing it into soups and other prepared foods to reduce food waste.
Our store will feature local and regional produce, fruits, meats, eggs and cheeses from the kinds of farmers you see at farmers markets. But it will also carry shampoo, frozen foods, dried pasta, bulk foods and wines and beers to round out your meals and household shopping. Plus, it’s open every day of the week, indoors, year-round, rain or shine! We like to think that our Co-op will be a grocery store with a neighborhood farmers market mentality.
Are there other food co-ops in Chicago?
The Dill Pickle Food Co-op is located in Logan Square and the Sugar Beet Food Co-op is operating in Oak Park. And there are others, like us, in development. Consistent with international co-op principles, we support other co-ops every chance we get.
Accessibility and Inclusion
Chicago Market is driven by a vision of constructing an alternative to the traditional, corporate-driven food supply chain. Because of the current state of our food economy, this bold vision immediately presents numerous dilemmas. For instance, how can a grocery store support dignified and justly compensated rural farm labor while making the fruits of that labor accessible to our low-income urban neighbors? This and similar challenges abound, but we are committed to our vision of a just and sustainable local foodshed, which we maintain is possible.
Read our full Commitment to Accessibility and Inclusion statement.