Elgin food co-op looking at 2 downtown spots, partnership with St. Charles grocery store
The yearslong effort to start a Shared Harvest food cooperative in Elgin now includes a partnership with Blue Goose Market in St. Charles and might reach a turning point soon with the pick of a downtown location.
The Shared Harvest initiative suffered a major blow two years ago when the commercial space the board of directors had settled on -- an empty area of a hardware store downtown -- turned out to require too much work.
After much searching, now there is a choice between two other buildings downtown, Shared Harvest Board President Thomas Lesiewicz said. He declined to pinpoint their exact locations but said he hopes the board can make a choice in time for an announcement at the next annual shareholder meeting Nov. 14.
One building is similar in size to the 6,500-square-foot hardware store space but needs parking reconfiguration, so the board commissioned an architectural design study; the other building is much smaller but has ample parking, so the board commissioned a market study, Lesiewicz said.
Shared Harvest will be a grocery store focused on "reasonably priced, healthful, organic, local foods and products," according to its website. Anyone will be able to shop there, but those who buy shares and become shareholders will have a voice in making decisions about the store.
Shared Harvest has sold 1,488 shares at $100 each to 1,022 households so far, board member and Treasurer Jennifer Shroder said. Its "farm-to-table" annual fundraising dinner Sunday at Dream Hall in Elgin was a success with about 80 people there, Lesiewicz said. He declined to share additional financial details.
Meanwhile, Shared Harvest is excited about the partnership -- for now verbal, eventually with a formal agreement -- with Paul Lencioni, owner of Blue Goose Market, Lesiewicz said. Lencioni has been lending his general expertise, and the idea is that Blue Goose will help with staffing, training and procurement of inventory, Lesiewicz said.
Lencioni said the partnership came after he met Carol Rauschenberger, an Elgin councilwoman who's been involved in Shared Harvest from the beginning.
"I told them, 'I would love to help you guys succeed. Let's figure it out,'" Lencioni said. "I think what they are doing is tremendous. It's really, really well-connected to our purpose ... to bring great food to people."
He and his general manager, Matt Bank, are both lending their expertise to Shared Harvest, and the future agreement might include a shared service model, he said. Earlier this summer, Lencioni made a public appeal, saying Blue Goose Market was fighting hard for its survival in an increasingly competitive grocery store market.
The Shared Harvest board has been consulting with other experts such as Sean Park, program manager at the Illinois Cooperative Development Center at Western Illinois University, Lesiewicz said. Park was the first expert to veer from traditional formulas prescribing that co-ops need about 10,000 square feet to succeed, and that opened up more possibilities for the Elgin initiative, Lesiewicz said.
Park said it's all about examining each location individually.
"The size of the building is not what makes it successful or not successful," Park said. "It's the sales, whether it can support it or not, that makes it successful."
The goal is to provide access to affordable and healthy, fresh food, and cut out items that small grocery stores can't afford to provide at competitive prices, like diapers and dog food, he said.