One step closer to check out

Kensington Community Food Co-op holds groundbreaking celebration on Saturday, May 6

A need to feed: KCFC member, Oren Eisenberg, is all smiles at the groundbreaking celebration on Saturday, May 6.

By Lindsey Nolen

In the past, various community-grown grocery stores such as Almanac Market and Cornerstone Market have failed without having taken proper precautionary and preparatory measures, according to Jeff Carpineta, a KCFC director at large. Determined not to face a similar fate, the Kensington Community Food Co-op has been in the organizational stage since 2008, but announced at its groundbreaking celebration on Saturday, May 6 that it is now ready to begin constructing its store at 2670 Coral St.

“Before you start taking hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment from your friends and your neighbors, you better get it right, and we finally got to the professional voices. They coached us on how to do this thing right,”Carpineta, said.

The idea for the KCFC stemmed from a small group of neighbors with the idea to open a community-owned grocery store serving the River Wards neighborhoods. Included in their vision was increased access to fresh, quality food while supporting local producers and creating jobs for neighborhood residents. Furthermore, by keeping profits local, KCFC aspires to help drive investments back into the community.

“We are celebrating our groundbreaking which actually happened on Monday, May 1,” Caiti Rothenberg, secretary of the KCFC Board of Directors, said. “We had very generous landlords, Mike and Sue Wade, co-op members who purchased this space on our behalf to open the store inside.”

Yet, to become more than just an average grocery store, KCFC’s goals also include being able to establish a community-oriented space that would allow neighbors to meet and connect, whether for professional or personal purposes. To offer this, it plans to establish itself as a “third home” to shoppers through a cafe/bar with to-go service and outdoor seating.

“KCFC is more than just a grocery store, we will be that third place for all of our neighbors. After homes and our workplaces or places of education, this co-op will be community hub, a meet-up space, a place to spend time with our neighbors and an enterprise owned by our community,” Holly Logan, KCFC president, said.

KCFC found its physical space in 2014 and hired a general manager, Mike Richards, in 2016. It also now has more than 810 owner/members — a term used to describe the members who have paid $100 to the organization, and therefore own a partial share in it — and has $1.5 million committed and more than 40 active volunteers.

“One of the main ways that we fundraise is through what’s called a ‘member loan,’ which is something that co-ops across the country do in order to raise the capital they need to open their stores,” Rothenberg, who has been volunteering with KCFC since 2014, said. “We have about 810 members who have joined the co-op and are technically part-owners of this community-owned business. They can make what’s called a member loan, where they loan money to the co-op and will be reimbursed later when the store opens.”

Many of the KCFC members and volunteers, such as Rothenberg, became involved with the organization after recognizing the need for such a local-focused grocery store. She and her now fiance, Oren Eisenberg, who is the marketing lead for KCFC and a volunteer on both the Marketing and Membership and Inclusivity Committees, gifted each other the $100 membership fee in 2014 for Valentines Day.

“KCFC membership is a gift that keeps on giving,” Eisenberg said. “We joined looking to get involved, do good and meet new people. Now we’re really excited to bring positive energy and come together in this underserved area.”

Ultimately, the full-service grocery store at the intersection of Coral Street and Lehigh Avenue will sell produce, bulk grains, milk, eggs and dairy, beauty and health products, mixed household goods, frozen goods, meat and meat alternatives. While sourcing its shelves as locally as possible, the store also seeks to keep things affordable for shoppers.

“We know we can begin construction and open our store in the foreseeable future, and plan to start in the next month or so,” Richards said. “Currently, I’m working with vendors to secure equipment loans, choose equipment and have them bid against one another to get the cheapest price possible. At some time in the near future, I’ll also be working more with food products and connecting with the neighborhood and local providers here for products.”

Ideally, KCFC hopes to open by the end of the year. According to Logan, it is committed to being accessible to everyone as well as to be mindful and inclusive of all the neighborhood’s cultural preferences, socioeconomics and more.

“We’ll be open to the public, but there are certain perks to being a member. In the immediate term, the perks are that you get discounts at over 50 local businesses that have signed up to be Shop Local partners,” Rothenberg explained. “This is a way for us to provide perks to our members before we even open.”