This is the story of a food co-op that applied for a loan but had to “settle” for a grant. CreekSide Co-op in Elkins Park applied for a $250,000 loan through the Montgomery County Redevelopment Authority, but was awarded today a $151,500 economic development grant by the county. This is not a sad story.
Board President Jeff Rotter attended the year-end meeting of the Montco Board of Commissioners in Norristown, where the grant was announced. He thanked the board for recognizing CreekSide’s successes in moving ahead since its opening in late 2012, including its strong developmental impact in spurring the opening of restaurants and other businesses in the Elkins Park East business district.
“This is how economic development should work,” declared Montgomery County Board of Commissioners Chair Josh Shapiro. He said the area around the co-op has “exploded” with business development after “the community rose up and said we’re going to do something” to turn around a “desolate” business direct. The result was the start-up of CreekSide Co-op, which is now thought to be on a direct path toward commercial success and stability.
The county funding is earmarked for key expenditures, including capital improvements in the store, added refrigeration and related equipment and continued consulting support from Uplift Solutions, a non-profit consulting firm specializing in the grocery business as a community catalyst founded by Jeff Brown. Brown is President and CEO of Brown’s Super Stores, an 11-store supermarket business that he operates in Philadelphia and Southern NJ. He owns the ShopRite in Cheltenham Mall and will be opening a Fresh Grocer in Cedarbrook Mall, replacing the Pathmark that closed.
According to the county, Uplift wrote an enthusiastic letter saying they believe CreekSide will be self-sustaining and profitable within 12 months. The grant was encouraged by dozens of letters from local residents testifying to CreekSide’s contributions to the community, including to the Cheltenham Little League, the Jewish Junior Basketball League and other activities.
The co-op has not yet received the commitment letter, which is to be authorized by the Redevelopment Authority, Rotter told Citizens’ Call. He hopes to have official word with parameters set out by year-end. Rotter got word that CreekSide was close to approval about 10 days ago. He noted that while it was not entirely clear, a loan may actually have provided some greater flexibility in spending the funds, however CreekSide was delighted with the news. “We had a very aggressive agenda in late summer of things to do to put ourselves on a path to 2016. We got 97 percent of it done. The grant is the cherry on top of the sundae. It’s good for our store and our community. We couldn’t be more delighted.”
Since the summer, the co-op embarked on extensive staff training, planned a community engagement and promotional strategy (both in conjunction with Uplift), “reset”/reorganized much of the store to enhance customer convenience, revamped the bakery department, boosted prepared foods and added key products, as well as hired a new GM, Duncan McGilvray. Rotter, who will be stepping down when the new board takes over shortly, said he expects the first quarter of 2016 will be a time of implementing and adjusting new policies set by McGilvray, who was most recently operations manager for the Food Bank of South Jersey.
It’s too early for a significant “bump” in sales now, added Rotter, but he expects that spring will be the time to evaluate the results of the hard work over the previous nine months. He looks forward to a sales jump of about 10 percent to close to $110,000 per week, putting the store on a firm financial footing.