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Proposed Schenectady food co-op aims to select downtown location

Proposed Schenectady food co-op aims to select downtown location

Spring deadline eyed
Proposed Schenectady food co-op aims to select downtown location
Kat Wolfram prepares brochures promoting the Electric City Cooperative at Arthur's Market in The Stockade last year.
Photographer: Peter R. Barber

SCHENECTADY — A proposed downtown food co-op is moving forward with selecting a location. 

The Electric City Food Co-Op has released a request for proposals (RFP) to developers and landowners for a brick-and-mortar location. 

Since 2013, organizers have been working to launch a co-operative food market in Schenectady and have signed up 360 members as of Monday.

Becoming a member-owner costs a one-time fee $200. Co-op organizers said they wanted 300 people to sign up before commissioning a marketing study to determine the level of community commitment necessary to move forward. 

Organizers aim to reach 500 members by the end of the year, with an ultimate goal of 1,000.

“We want to have 1,000 when breaking ground,” said board member Adine Viscusi.

The co-op hopes to reach a decision on the location next spring, according to the RFP.

The marketing study has not been made public. But the co-op said in a news release on Monday the study was conducted by a consultant that “specializes in food co-op startups and has maintained a high degree of accuracy with forecasts.”

“The market study report confirmed that Electric City Food Co-op could be successful with a projection of over $3.5 million in sales in the first year, with a 2 to 3 percent increase in sales per year – with the right location,” according to the release.

The proposed location is not expected to reach maturity for at least four years, according to the RFP. 

Organizers said they’ve flagged several potential locations, but are keeping those close to the vest.

A critical element for the proposed full-service, community-owned grocery store is that the site be walkable, bikeable and near a bus line.

“Always our goal has been for downtown,” said Co-Op President Kat Wolfram. 

According to the RFP, requirements for success include the following ingredients:

  • A minimum of 8,500 square feet in space, including 6,000 allocated for retail space and 2,500 for an education center, offices and back end, with an additional 500 for commercial kitchen and incubator space.
  • An unloading area for deliveries.
  • Easy access to I-890, and easy ingress and egress for pedestrians and cars.

The co-op seeks at least 54 dedicated parking spaces for the eventual location. 

"We will not accept less than 54," the RFP states. "More parking is better."

ONGOING CAMPAIGN

In addition to securing a location, the co-op is planning a capital campaign, finalizing finances and hiring a general manager.

Some of the funds that have been collected to date have been used for operating costs and to fund the marketing study, organizers said.

The co-op has been continually signing up members for the past six years, and held numerous events last week, including at Mangino’s Gourmet Market and Tara Kitchen as part of this month’s “Drive to 500” recruitment campaign.

The effort to sign up members this year has been the co-op’s best year for recruitment, according to the news release. 

Bolstering membership ranks before drawing up business and construction plans both establishes support in the community and builds a pot of money with which to start the planning process after the support is determined to exist. 

“The place doesn’t work without community support,” Viscusi said. 

A key goal of the co-op is addressing downtown Schenectady’s food desert and adjacent neighborhoods where there is no supermarket within walking distance, only corner stores with higher prices and limited selection.

The co-op aims to be a flagship store for locally sourced and sustainably produced foods and products, and will be the only full-service natural foods store in Schenectady County, organizers said. 

Like the project’s model, Honest Weight Food Co-Op in Albany, Electric City aims to offer selection of bulk foods, a cafe with ready-to eat foods, and envisions working to develop markets for local farmers and producers and providing activity and event space.

Viscusi likened its role to a community’s “connective tissue,” and one that will gain in importance as more and more downtown apartments go online.

“It’s a real sense of community on multiple different levels,” she said.

The deadline for property owners and developers to file submissions for the RFP is Dec. 15 at 5 p.m.

Upcoming recruitment events include a tour of Excelsior Hemp & Biosoil Farm in Glenville today, a tour of Casa Visco on Oct. 22, tabling at the Schenectady Greenmarket on Oct. 27 and Taco Tuesday at Mexican Radio on Oct. 29 from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

For more info visit electriccityfood.coop or find them on Facebook.

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