If you could provide more customer parking and keep delivery trucks off the streets, wouldn’t it be worth a few hundred thousand more dollars (of a $2 million increase) in funding an expansion? With plans to buy the former Love Lines site to the south of its store, that’s what the Eastside Food Cooperative (EFC) plans to ask members at a meeting April 17.
Co-op general manager Amy Fields told the Northeaster they had been ready to go ahead with a $4.1 million expansion starting in July, which would build out onto the current patio area at 2551 Central Ave. NE and incorporate all of the spaces that had been leased to others in the early days.
Fields said she’d tried to keep in touch with Love Lines about possibly renting office space for employees displaced during renovation. Then in November 2013 Love Lines ceased operations, and in February Love Lines’ board decided to sell the building and their two city lots, eventually entertaining private offers. EFC’s bid won and they intend to complete the purchase on a contract for deed with about half down, according to Board President Manisha Nordine. Fields said it would close at the end of April after getting a Phase One environmental study, topographical survey and title search done.
A message on Love Lines phone indicates that they are “not available to take your call due to several transitions within the organization,” and invites callers to try back on May 1 when they plan to open their lines again.
The new Co-op plan adds a strip of space to the entire southern edge of the building, and adds two entrances facing Central Avenue, one serving the Co-op and one serving a coffee shop and meeting room area that would also be built new, to the south (see rendering). Currently, neither the Co-op nor Love Lines have street-facing entrances. The new design will also remove one driveway.
Fields is jazzed about being able to take deliveries without having trucks parked in the alley or on 26th Avenue, which would have been necessary in the old plan. And, there will be a truck-height loading dock for easy pallet transfer, less unloading by hand.
But the biggest consumer benefit, and according to EFC’s consultant should bring $750,000 a year into the store, is going from 37 parking spaces to 65. No matter how dedicated a person is to shopping at the Co-op, Fields said, “we’re a working community. From 4-7 p.m. and Saturday/Sunday are our busiest hours. A person might circle the parking lot once or twice, but if there’s no spot, they’ll continue on thinking they’ll come back later,” and then may not. “And if they’re buying the volume we need them to buy,” shoppers need to be able to push their carts to their cars.
The new plan costs $6.1 million. The Co-op has bank and neighborhood loan funding lined up or close to lined up, Fields said, and had launched a campaign to sell C-Shares (non-voting preferred stock) and solicit members for 2% loans to raise $1.1 of the original $4.1 million. The new ask to members will be to lend $1.5 million through additional shares and loans with fixed terms of five to seven years. Only members (who have paid the $100 one-time membership fee) may invest.
Fields said in the April/May 2014 Eastside Food Coop News (printed before the deal with Love Lines was made) that founding investors recently re-invested $165,000 of the $293,000 they held in C-Shares that had come due.
Thursday’s meeting, April 17, 7-9 p.m. at Chowgirls Parlor, 1222 Second St. NE, will cover certifying a special election on increasing the capital stock to accomplish the expansion, and to provide information to members on the new scenario.
Nordine wrote in an email, “When the opportunity presented itself, we were ready to move forward and we knew we had to act fast as there were several other parties interested in the property, each with their own goals for positive development on Central Avenue…The property acquisition allows us to continue our vital role as an anchor on Central Avenue. Higher sales fuel EFC’s ability to further pursue the employment, education, and community aspects of our business goals. We pursued the higher purchase offer based on the strong recommendations of our consultants and the representatives of our financial institutions, and further, knowing that an investment of this value positions EFC to be at the forefront of a fair and prosperous economy. It is an exciting time for EFC as many of the dreams and goals set before the initial Co-op opened are now on the cusp of reality.”
This opportunity “did not come too late,” Fields said. Construction had not started, and Fields forecasts that the need to obtain the member financing will delay the start from July, to late summer or fall. There are approximately 4,500 co-op members. Simple math applied to minimums would suggest that either 1,315 of them would each buy $1,000 in C-shares or 657 would make 2% loans.
Quoting the newsletter again, “Any EFC member interested in expansion can call Amy Fields at 612-843-5401 and request a disclosure document, or email amy@eastside food.coop. As with any financial decision there are risks and benefits you will want to evaluate.”
An aside: All of the art incorporated into the coop is portable, and should be incorporated somewhere into the new design, Fields said.