After a decade in the making, the 8-month-old Kensington Community Food Co-op could shut down if it doesn’t raise $20,000 this week, according to board member Oren Eisenberg.
“I don’t know if we can say the co-op will close next week if we don’t meet this week’s goal,” Eisenberg told Billy Penn, “but this is truly urgent financial need.”
Located just off Frankford Avenue at 2670 Coral St., within easy access for residents of the surrounding Fishtown, Port Richmond and Kensington neighborhoods, the co-op is currently losing about $7,000 each month, general manager Mike Richards said during the November membership meeting.
That’s before accounting for debt service or past-due construction bills, Eisenberg said.
On Sunday, the KCFC board sent an appeal to members, urging them to donate, pre-pay for groceries and voluntarily increase their membership rate from $200 to $300 in hopes to raise the needed income to cover outstanding bills.
Construction issues have been a thorn in the nascent community grocer’s side, with cost overruns contributing to delays in the store’s 11-year journey to finally launching last April.
Per management, the nascent community grocer needs to bring in $95k in monthly sales to hold on. Its November take was just $86k — compared to a projected $132k.
A variety of factors contributed to the lower-than-expected revenue, Eisenberg said. He cited a “summer slump” that sees many Philadelphians depart for the Jersey Shore each weekend between June and August, kicking off a downward spiral.
“It’s challenging for new business to get a strong uptake with customers and change shopping patterns when they’re not consistently in the city,” he said.
When Kensington Co-op didn’t sell enough product, it wasn’t able to restock shelves efficiently, so customers couldn’t always find what they were looking for. “Even if someone came in wanting to purchase more,” Eisenberg said, “we didn’t necessarily have the products available for them to do so.”
Goal: ‘more affordable and accessible’
Kensington Co-op started in 2008 as a project where a few neighborhood residents would buy food goods in bulk and distribute it around the River Wards community. At that time, there weren’t many quality grocery stores in the area.
Other co-operative markets like this have found great success. In Philly, there’s Mariposa Food Co-op on the border of West and Southwest Philadelphia, and Weavers Way, which operates five locations in the Northwest and neighboring Ambler, Pa. Brooklyn’s Park Slope Co-op is famous for its longevity and exclusivity. The Sacramento Food Co-op has been around for more than 40 years and offers free cooking classes out of its community kitchen. And Pittsburgh has the East End Food Co-op, which has been around since the late 70s.
After receiving about $1.9 million in funding from sources, including $300,000 from prospective members, money from the Philly-based Reinvestment Fund and funds from the city economic development organization PIDC, the Kensington Co-op launched this past spring.
Since opening, the store has pulled in nearly $541,000 in sales revenue, Eisenberg said. In addition to locally-sourced groceries, KCFC also makes money from an in-house bar and coffee shop.
Those amenities, along with many of the items on the food shelves, carry price tags on the high end for Philadelphia — despite being located in a neighborhood with one of the lowest median incomes in the entire city.
Eisenberg acknowledged the co-op is looking for a way to offer more financially accessible goods.
“We’re still adjusting the product mix and pricing to be more affordable and accessible for more people,” he said. “We may not be there yet for fully meeting the needs of the customers.”
Lowering prices is one five points leadership says will help the co-op move forward — if it’s able to be saved. The store is stocking about 30 new more affordable products this week, and will start increased outreach to members and the community at large, Eisenberg said.
Already, he said, the store has reduced staff and its store hours to help cut costs.
KCFC counted 1,051 members as of its November meeting. Of that, 640 members had shopped in the store at least once since it opened and about 300 of those members had shopped there about once a month, management reported at the time.
Since the call-to-action email sent Sunday, “there’s been a substantial increase in sales,” Eisenberg told Billy penn. More members tapped into the co-op cash program, which basically allows folks to pre-pay for groceries and provide liquidity for the business, he said.
Kensington Co-op will host its in-person membership meeting on Wednesday, Dec. 18, to push for additional fundraising and go over next steps.