Prairie Food Co-op looks for another Lombard location after falling short of fundraising goal
The leaders of a Lombard-based food cooperative are reluctantly looking for an alternate location.
Prairie Food Co-op announced this week that it will likely walk away from its intended bricks-and-mortar store at 109 S. Main St. after only raising $3.2 million of its $4.4 million capital fundraising campaign goal.
"As of March 1, we were $1.2 million short of what we need to raise in order to proceed with building and opening the store," said Kathy Nash, Prairie Food Co-op board president and co-founder.
Unlike commercial grocery stores, a co-op is made up of shareholders and investors who focus on supporting local farmers and area microbusinesses.
In February of 2021, Prairie Food Co-op signed a 10-year lease with Indiana-based developer Holladay Properties for a new 10,000 square-foot building. It also launched its capital campaign to build out the store's interior, hire employees and stock shelves.
"I want to be clear that the developer has been very supportive of us," Nash said. "If for some reason more than $1 million were to fall in our lap, they have graciously offered to extend the lease at the same rate, but we just don't see that happening."
Nash said the developer understandably wants to have tenants lease out its property. But as soon as the building is subdivided, it will not be suitable for a grocery store.
In addition to donors, Nash detailed that Prairie Food Co-op has applied for multiple grants from the village of Lombard, DuPage County and the state of Illinois. But the cards have not come up in favor of the co-op so far.
"The issue when we apply for federal or state grants is that we are not in a low-income community and we are not in a food desert," Nash said. "We are competing against communities that have a real need to have food access. So they are rightly prioritized."
In a news release, Prairie Food Co-op detailed two of its failed $400,000 grant applications. One was directed at DuPage County seeking funds from the $135 million granted by the federal American Rescue Plan Act. The other was from Lombard, but the village does not have a policy of providing upfront investments in properties located within a tax increment financing district.
Prairie Food Co-op's application for a state-funded grant for approximately $800,000 is still being considered, but Nash is not optimistic.
"We submitted a high-quality grant, but the field is so competitive," Nash said. "The grant winners have been delayed in being announced because there was a huge amount of applicants, and that does not bode well."
In terms of another site, Nash said the focus is currently on Lombard since the majority of Prairie Food Co-op's members are based there. But she also acknowledged that other communities have made overtures for Prairie Food Co-op to relocate.
"We would consider, with input from our owners, pursuing those other avenues," Nash said. "We still want to meet our mission. We still want to open a grocery store that supports local farmers and food producers."