A steering committee of about 10 people is working to start a cooperative grocery store in downtown Elgin by next summer. The goal is ambitious but members have reason to believe their enthusiasm can make it happen.
Carol Rauschenberger moved back to the Elgin area about five years ago and has not stopped missing the food co-ops she shopped at and belonged to in Massachusetts, Arizona and Michigan. Frustration at feeling priced out of Whole Foods and too far from Trader Joe's got the Elgin native looking for other people to connect with.
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"I was sure there were enough people like me that if we banded together cooperatively, that we could have a consumer-run grocery store with the things we wanted," Rauschenberger said.
Elgin already has a food co-op where people order their items ahead of time but Rauschenberger's vision, and that of the committee, is to lease a building in downtown that will be completely dedicated as a grocery store with products like vitamins, organic body care products, pet foods and ecologically safe cleaning supplies in addition to groceries.
Maybe it will be fully staffed by member volunteers, maybe the co-op will hire some employees -- the details will need to be hammered out in coming months, hopefully at larger general membership meetings.
More than 400 people expressed interest in the co-op through a Downtown Neighborhood Association poll last month and Rauschenberger hopes with more advertising and outreach membership will make it to the thousands. Right now committee members are focusing on research and finding out how other co-ops have made the business model work.
George Hahne, president of Marketplace Media, is a DNA board member and chairman of the economic development committee, also serving on the steering committee for the co-op. He said a group plans to visit a Madison, Wis., co-op Aug. 18 and has learned a lot from Duck Soup's success in DeKalb.
Hahne is excited about the quality of food offered at co-ops and what it would mean for the Elgin community.
"Everything about these co-ops is right in terms of what they're passing along from producer to consumer," Hahne said.
The goal for an Elgin food co-op would be to keep prices affordable while offering healthy, locally produced options.
The group is working on launching a Facebook page and website. In the meantime, email Hahne at email@example.com to get involved.