by Rich Schiffer
After reading Amy Brisson's article in the Delaware County Times, I feel compelled to respond: She titled her article, "Chester's Community Grocery Co-op wants to expand." For the sake of Chester, I truly hope they succeed, as their effort represents a level of "revitalization" that the community truly will benefit from.
The newly approved soccer stadium and the redevelopment of the Chester waterfront may be seen by future historians as the project that gave rebirth to an ailing city, but what will make that rebirth sustainable - ensuring that Chester does not fall back into the ashes it is now rising out of - will be community-supported projects like the Chester Community Grocery Co-op.
Why am I so certain it will be successful? It is a basic concept, taught in nearly every first-year marketing class:
To be successful in any market:
- find a demand that is not being met, and
- provide a supply to meet that demand.
Chester has a demand: There has been no full service grocery store within the city for more than a decade and a half.
The traditional providers of grocery services have been unwilling to meet that demand, due to a series of obstacles that limit profitability. As a result of these obstacles, their determination has been that a grocery store would not be viable, and the demand has gone unanswered.
That determination, however, was based on the conventional business model. The co-operative model brings a set of solutions to the obstacles that balked the conventional groceries.
With the co-operative model, the high cost of staffing is reduced significantly, because member-owners provide much of the manual labor. The high "shrinkage" rate - a term describing loss of product due to such factors as theft and spoilage - is likewise minimized, because the shoppers, being partial owners of the store themselves, are not likely to steal from themselves, and store stock is based directly on choices made by the owners.
In addition to surmounting many if not all of the obstacles faced by conventional grocery stores, the co-operative model also serves to create many additional benefits to the community that the conventional models may not be able to provide. Chief among these ancillary benefits is a co-op's ability to uplift the spirit of the community, and rekindle a sense of community pride. The members of the Chester Community Grocery Co-op - from diverse ethnic, racial, political, and economic backgrounds - have all come together for a common purpose. By working together for positive change in the community, they create a sustainable dynamic that will have broad-reaching and long-lasting effects, much more so than any conventional big-box store could.
There are obstacles to the success of a co-op, to be sure, and the co-operative model will only succeed if those obstacles are overcome. What's the biggest obstacle? Simply put: to succeed, the co-op needs members. The chief obstacle to that thus far has been the membership fee - $250, which includes a refundable capital investment of $200. To many Chester residents, that is beyond their grasp.
But not for long. It will soon be possible to surmount that obstacle, thanks to the Economic Stimulus package recently enacted by Congress. I encourage every resident of Chester, when they receive their economic stimulus check, to help stimulate their own local economy by joining the Co-op, and becoming part of the rebirth of the City.
My 4 year old twins like to watch Bob The Builder. He has a saying that certainly applies to the revitalization of Chester that the Co-op represents:
"Can we build it? Yes we can!"
(Rich Schiffer is a member of the Chester Community Grocery Co-op, and is a local Real Estate Agent, residing in neighboring Ridley Township.)