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If We Fund It, It Will Come: Why Building Our Co-op Will Take a Village

Chicago Market Owners’ dreams for our Co-op store have been clear since the beginning: We want a big, bright, beautiful community-owned grocery store open to all that features local, sustainably farmed, organic produce, meat and dairy products, as well as all the other staples and amenities you’d expect from your market. And because it’s a cooperative, it will be devoted to a triple bottom line: People. Planet. Profit. 

As you can imagine, it won’t come cheap.

How much money do you think we will need to fund the design, construction, store-build-out, purchase of equipment, shelving and refrigeration units (and the food to stock them), employee training, publicity…and all the rest that goes into owning and operating a 13,239-square-foot grocery store? Go ahead – take a guess.

Nope. More than that.

More than even that!

According to Chicago Market’s Founder and current Board member Greg Berlowitz, we will need approximately $5M (that’s “million) dollars to create the cooperatively owned and democratically run grocery store we’ve been working towards – and dreaming about – for the last 4 years.

Admittedly, $5M is a huge lift. That’s why our funding effort is two-pronged. Tine #1, which will account for almost 40% of that $5M price tag, will be focused on obtaining market-driven loans directly from Chicago Market Owners. (More on that in an upcoming blog post).

The other component, totaling $3.2 million, will be sought from a range of funding sources:

- Ownership Equity
- Mission-driven community development funding institutions (CDFIs)
- Cooperative banks and credit unions
- US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Local Food Production Program grant
- Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds from the City of Chicago used, in part, to support economic development in disadvantaged neighborhoods

Up until we had a site, Greg says, none of these funding sources could accept our applications. That’s why Greg and his capital-building cohorts spent the last year or two creating a funding plan they could spring into action as soon as a site was signed, sealed and delivered.

That’s not to say it’ll be easy.

“Our philosophy as Owners has always been that we wanted a store that would be community-owned yet open to all shoppers who share our values about the Chicago foodshed,” Greg says. “Our bottom line is a shared one, which is precisely why we need to work together to fund the store Owners want, one that isn’t available on the North Side.

“Of course, there are a couple of Chicagoland co-ops, like Sugar Beet in Oak Park and the Dill Pickle in Logan Square. But nowhere in our North Side service area is there a store that buys and sells local, sustainable and organic food and goods in a way that benefits the community – not a behemoth corporation that exists for the financial benefit of its shareholders.”

There’s a catch to our funding story…something Greg has thought long and hard about: If we don’t get all the funding we need to build our Co-op – particularly in the form of Owner Loans – it cannot come to pass.

“That hard truth is, well, it’s hard to swallow,” Greg admits. “And frankly, it’s difficult for me to say it. Yet with full transparency as one of our guiding principles, it must be voiced. There is no funding Plan B for our beloved Chicago Market. To make it happen, we have to resolutely Grow our Ownership rolls and robustly pursue external and Owner sources of Funds. Only then can we do what we are so looking forward to do – and that’s Build our Co-op.”

To tweak a popular refrain, it’ll take a village to birth our Co-op. What can you do to do your part?

If you’re an Owner, recruit your friends, neighbors and colleagues to become Owners…and give serious consideration to participating in our Owner Loan Campaign.

If you follow us on Facebook or signed our petition and believe in our mission, become an Owner of Chicago Market – today.

Regardless of your Owner status, volunteer to help in whatever capacity suits you. We’re particularly welcoming volunteers who have capital development and or fundraising expertise to share.

Come one. Come all. Let’s Grow, Fund and Build Chicago Market together.

 


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