WIUM Tristates Public Radio

Macomb Food Co-op Staying Put for Now

Sep 14, 2017

A feasibility study commissioned by the Macomb Food Cooperative found that moving the group's store into a larger space in the near future would be too much, too soon.

“We need to, to some degree, get back to what we were doing before we opened the store, which was increasing our number of owners,” said Gordon Rands, Chairperson of the co-op’s Board of Directors.

The group currently has a bit more than 400 owners. Rands said the co-op needs to double that to increase its capital and make a larger store financially viable.

The co-op currently operates a small store at the corner of McArthur and Washington Streets in the downtown area.  The co-op places an emphasis on selling fresh, locally produced food.  The store is open to owners and to the general public.

Board members were intrigued by the possibility of moving into a larger downtown location that once housed a portion of the Modern Home furniture store, and co-op owners agreed to the feasibility study in late July.

In addition to the need for investment from more owners, the feasibility study cited several concerns about Macomb and the idea of trying to expand the store right now:

  • The natural food propensity is below average for a college town
  • Enrollment has declined for roughly a decade at Western Illinois University
  • The number of retail vacancies is above average for a college town
  • There is a lack of trendy chains for a town of this size
  • Housing starts are minimal and there are few high scale neighborhoods

Rands said some estimates put the cost of a larger store at up to $250 per square foot.  So the price tag for a 5,000 square foot location could top $1 million.

“There’s no question, it’s going to be a stretch. And it’s going to be enough of a stretch that we felt that we would essentially be putting the entire survival of the co-op on the line (if it moved to a larger location too soon),” Rands said.

He acknowledged feeling disappointment about the study’s findings, but added the study is immensely helpful because the group now has more information about what must be done to succeed.

And he said owners now have an opportunity to get more involved as the co-op tries to make a larger store feasible.  The board created eight task forces that owners can join:

  • Ownership drive
  • Capital campaign
  • Store location and design
  • Grants
  • Prepared foods
  • Marketing support
  • Outreach
  • Owner communication

“We’ve got a presence here,” Rands said. “We’ve just got to expand people’s awareness, get more people working on this, and then we think we can make a go of it.”