The Seward Friendship Store sparks return of the co-op war


Is a long awaited co-op grocery going to help or hurt a historical black neighborhood?


A church in Minneapolis’ Bryant neighborhood.

Just a block away from Marjaan Sirdar’s little blue house, you’ll find what he calls “the black bible belt of South Minneapolis.” Four churches sit on four corners, surrounded by community gardens or inspirational signs. To my eyes, none seem fancy. Aging low-slung buildings amid the unglamorous but tidy homes of the Bryant neighborhood, itself pushed up against the brown walls of the Interstate that cuts the city in half.

In 2009, a tornado swept through the Bryant neighborhood and downed most of the trees along a large swath, so that walking down 4th Avenue today instills an eerie feeling of exposure. And for decades this has been an economically overlooked corner of town, one of the first African-American neighborhoods in a city historically hostile to racial and religious difference.

But things are starting to change. As the Star Tribune reported this week, after generations of decline, investors are beginning to take notice of 38th Street. The biggest new development is the Seward Co-op’s new “friendship store”, which is expanding from its famously hippie neighborhood two miles to the East. This summer, a new $11.5 million dollar store is rising on the site of an abandoned church. It will lure thousands of customers with organic vegetables and a deli counter sitting across the street from the Sabathani Community Center, right in the heart of Bryant.

For many people, the coming of the co-op is an unmitigated good, a long awaited quality grocery store in one of the city’s largest “food deserts.” But for Sirdar and other organizers, the new store is something else. It might be the neighborhood’s best chance to have an honest discussion about how development, race, and Minneapolis’ segregated culture are changing the city. But as construction continues, that chance might be slipping away.

Area churches


Two ways of looking at the Seward Friendship Store

Minneapolis is famous for being one of the most outwardly liberal cities in the country, balancing diversity and economic opportunity so that, compared to many fast-growing US metros, people can still afford to buy homes. And after decades of decline, the city is growing again. Hot neighborhoods like Uptown, the North Loop, and the Mill District are outpacing averages, and it’s not hard to find new apartments popping up all over town. In some areas, new construction create landscapes almost unrecognizable compared to just five years ago.

But the easy narrative of a Midwestern liberal economic engine has been shaken over the past few years by regular reminders of a cancer in the heart: our region has the worst racial inequalities in the country.

The Twin Cities has an undeniable geography of opportunity, education, jobs in the region, and it leaves people of color out in the proverbial cold. No other place in America, one of the most unequal countries in the Global North, offers such opportunity for white people and so little to the rest. And nowhere do these contrasts play out so vividly as in Minneapolis.

That inequality is why the new 38th Street store has raised so many questions. Led by the Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization (CANDO), neighbors have spent the last year asking the Seward Co-op to negotiate a “community benefits agreement” (or CBA). Their demands offer a comprehensive list of ways that the Co-op might better benefit the neighborhood’s existing population, and begin to alleviate Minneapolis’ persistent inequality: needs-based discounts on food and membership, concrete goals for employment diversity, and living wages of $15 per hour.

[See a draft of the proposed Central Neighborhood Community Benefits Agreement: CANDO CBA.]

On the face of it both the Seward Co-op and CANDO want the same thing: for all the parties to sit down at the table and hash out an agreement. Spokespeople from both the Seward Co-op and CANDO told me (almost word for word) that a multi-party talk between neighborhood groups and the co-op administrators was their goal. According to an email from Seward, they are “committed to listening and responding to the community’s needs.”

But following a contentious April meeting, negotiations between the co-op and the community have broken down. The co-op’s official position is that they are going to re-visit the issue in the Spring of 2016, six months after the store is open. But for neighbors, that might be too late.


38th Street South marks the border between the Bryant and Central neighborhoods. Photo by Kayla Steinberg.


A brief history of Bryant 

If you start asking people about the history of Bryant, people will always tell you the same thing: this is where Prince grew up.

And it makes sense that Bryant would be the famous backdrop for Purple Rain, because this little neighborhood has been a haven for Minneapolis’ African-American community for almost a century. For many years, along with areas around downtown, the homes in Bryant and Central were the only choices for people of color in Minneapolis. Living any where else was strictly limited by racist financing practices, real estate discrimination, and the threat of violence.

Redlining,” in particular, was the key way that race, class and geography tied themselves together across the American landscape. Dating back to the New Deal, Federal lenders fighting Depression-era foreclosures developed a ambitious but poisonous system of rating neighborhoods according to quality.


Redlining maps of Minneapolis and Saint Paul.

And it worked. Millions of Americans living in “blue neighborhoods” became eligible for low-interest mortgages which allowed millions of Americans to buy homes for the first time.

But race played a critical factor in determining which neighborhoods received loans. Racially diverse neighborhoods like Bryant (or Near North, Cedar-Riverside, or Stevens Square) were colored red, off limits for loans. Along with discriminatory realty practices and racial tensions, the policy meant that black Americans had little access to real estate wealth.

And if you look at a map of South Minneapolis today, the Bryant neighborhood still catches your eye. Compared to neighborhoods to the  South, East, and West, Bryant has a far higher percentage of people of color, higher unemployment, and lower income.


Data and maps from Minnesota Compass.


Data and maps from Minnesota Compass.


The co-op expansion era

Over the last decade, the Twin Cities’ co-ops have been in the midst of a generational change. The old style of cooperative store, where members were closely engaged with day-to-day operations and the place was stocked with volunteers, are endangered species in today’s more corporate environment.

(Protip: If you want to see the last of the old-school co-ops, head to Saint Paul’s Hampden Park.)

Watching Twin Cities co-ops change over the past 15 years has been a lesson in compromise, the tension between maintaining local control and ruthless competition from corporate stores like Whole Foods has meant that co-ops have become  more sophisticated about things like branding and supply lines. The latest trend has been a series of expansions, as long-tenured stores like the Wedge Co-op (the region’s largest) or Saint Paul’s Mississippi Market open new retail locations.

C.O. occupier throws rock (Anvil vol 15, p. 4)

Demonstrator  throwing rock amid protest over co-ops in the 70s.

But co-ops have been evolving for a long time. Craig Cox, a Minneapolis writer who lived in the Bryant neighborhood for years, literally wrote the book on the early days of co-ops in the Twin Cities.

“You have to understand that back in the 70s, it didn’t cost hardly anything to open a co-op,” Cox told me. “There was all sorts of retail space open in the city. A lot of mom and pop groceries had been going out of business, so you could get all the stuff you needed, like coolers, freezers, shelving, scales… It was very easily available and very cheap.”

In fact, the Bryant and Central neighborhoods once had a co-op of their own. By the 1970s, as the once thriving 38th Street business district fell on hard times, co-ops were an answer for struggling urban retail. And the diverse assortment of 70s-era co-ops ran the political gamut. Especially in this part of South Minneapolis, the idea of co-ops dovetailed with rising African-American political consciousness.

bryant central

The Bryant-Central Co-op in the 1970s.

“There were some folks organizing the Bryant-Central Co-Op in the early 70s who were very good political activists, good at mobilizing and galvanizing a politically-oriented base of folks to get involved in the co-op. That co-op was sort of the nexus for the 1975 co-op war,” Cox explained.

As Cox’s book explains, rival factions struggled to define whether or not co-ops would become politically organized. The situation became literally explosive in South Minneapolis, especially around the Seward and Bryant-Central co-ops.

“One of the leaders there, Moe Burton, was a former Black Panther organizer and a real leader in that community. Back at that time, the Marxist-Leninist folks really saw the Bryant-Central Co-op as a place where they could make a statement. And they tried and failed. As what happened with a lot of neighborhood co-ops, after that, people drifted away and it just went out of business,” Cox told me.


Co-op wars redux

The radical past adds an historic twist to today’s situation, with the Seward Co-op literally erecting its sign on 38th Street. As Cox says, “the hippies won.”

But today’s new struggle suggests that the tension between profit and politics is as alive as ever. In today’s co-ops, explicit politics is replaced by consumption. Customers and member-owners can browse for ideologies, choosing how engaged they want to be through labels while professional organizers with petitions are relegated to the street corner outside.

“If co-ops don’t grow and expand then it will be someone else, Cub or another conventional grocery store,” Tom Vogel told me when I asked him about the expansion plans.

Vogel is Seward’s Marketing Manager, and defends the amount of community outreach that the store has already done. After all, the co-op is member-owned, and unlike corporate groceries, decisions about supply chains and profit margins are made by a democratically elected board.

Right now, the current debate over the Seward expansion is at a stand-still. According to their press release, the official Seward position is that negotiations are on hold until after the store opens.

38th Street 


CANDO and the CBA


The Seward construction site. Photo by Kayla Steinberg.

Negotiations about whether or not the new Seward Store will sign a CBA (community benefits agreement) have been going on for most of the past year. But they broke down after a meeting in late April, where neighbors from the Central and Bryant neighborhoods asked tough questions of Co-op spokespeople.

According to an email released to their employees (we received it from a source), Seward makes the following claims:

A group of activists from around the city attended and disrupted the meeting [on April 25th]. After this meeting the co-op and BNO both agreed that it was best if we put the conversation toward a shared vision and an MBA on hold until spring of 2016. Putting this MBA on hold also allows us to focus on two successful openings of our new businesses. As we draw closer to the opening of the Friendship store, we look forward to re-entering conversations regarding the development of an MBA for our Friendship store. In the meantime we are committed to listening and responding to the community’s needs.

[See original email: Seward Email May28]

That stance doesn’t sit well with Tina Burnside, who sits on the CANDO board.


Tina Burnside. Photo by Bill Lindeke.

“CANDO and the Central neighborhood are interested in having things occur before the store is opened,” Burnside told me. “I don’t know what the issue is. Right now their position is that they‘re not going to enter into any type of agreement, and focus on opening the store. But the time to negotiate a CBA is now, not once the store opens.”

Once the store opens and thousands of people begin pouring onto 38th Street from all corners of the city, asking Seward to change will be much more of a challenge. But as things sit now, Bryant and Central neighbors don’t seem to have much leverage.

Officially, the Seward remains sympathetic to the Central Neighborhood’s concerns. During meetings last year, Seward released a comprehensive document with answers to the key questions raised during community meetings.

[See Seward Co-op’s Q & A document: Seward Q-A July 19.]

On gentrification, they say this:

“The topic of gentrification is a complex issue. The question of what is appropriate development is certainly an important topic in our neighborhoods. We are not interested in creating a situation wherein property values and rents make the community unaffordable. This issue is bigger than the co-op deciding to build in Bryant. At the root of this issue is the price of real estate and whether it goes up or down. Prices are driven more by interest rates and public policy. At the root of this issue is fundamentally an economy built on greed. We only need to look at the foreclosure crisis we all recently lived through as an illustration of our individual and collective vulnerability to the economic system.”

We believe that cooperatives are a solution, not a contributor, to this problem. Co-ops build community- owned wealth that is a positive anchor in the community in which they exist. […] Our intentions are not gentrification, but rather the improvement of access to healthy foods for current co-op members and the broader community residing in neighborhoods near the Friendship site. We intend to build a store that is warm and inviting to all.”


The Seward construction site on 38th Street, with the Sabathani Community Center in the background. Photo by Bill Lindeke.


Getting beyond the gentrification paradox

The word “gentrification” gets thrown around a lot. It’s often difficult to tell exactly what people mean. Is it gentrification just because the neighborhood is changing? Because the city subsidizes a new bike lane, park, or housing development? Is the key to gentrification race, rising rents, or both?

For example, around the country, places like Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are notorious for being markers of profound neighborhood change. There’s even a term for it, the “whole foods effect”, which describes how high-end grocery options can radically change the fabric and flavor of neighborhoods. By bringing thousands of people from the surrounding whiter neighborhoods onto 38th Street, there’s no doubt that the Seward store will spur change.

With its overwhelming (but rapidly changing) white majority, gentrification debates in Minneapolis often center on how culture intertwines with economic opportunity.  It’s all too easy to create spaces where only wealthier white people feel welcome.


Marjaan Sirdar. Photo by Bill Lindeke.

“A lot of pressure about redevelopment connects to this bigger issue of spaces for people of color in Minneapolis,” Marjaan Sindar told me. “We live in a time where populations of black and brown people are exploding, but spaces for black and brown people are diminishing.”

In the Twin Cities, for all our celebration of diversity, it’s hard to find places where black, white, and latino people amicably coexist. Some neighborhoods are better than others, but huge parts of the city remain socially segregated from each other.

“The bigger problem for me, as a person of color, [I] want to find recreational or social activities in places where black and brown people frequent. It’s impossible in this area. Black ownership of business is next to nothing in this area,” Marjaan told me.

“What do we see we see all these luxury apartments and condos erected everywhere,” Sirdar said. “Black and brown people want vibrant communities where we can have self determination, our own places and shops and, more than anything, places that create jobs and wealth and income for our communities.”

“At the same time, we want to keep our communities feeling like we belong here. Because as soon as we venture outside of black and brown communities, there’s this sense that it’s not welcoming,” Sirdar said.

Ten years ago, I lived in the Kingfield neighborhood, less than a mile from the location of the new store, just across the 35W freeway. Back then, the neighborhood was a mix of cultures. The corner of 38th and Nicollet offered everything from bodegas to cheap tacos to a Hardware Store and a Salvation Army.

Today, the old corner is more upscale, with places like Blackbird Café and (the brand new) Nighthawks. Standing in Kingfield today, you can feel the real estate pressure pressing up against the interstate, looking for the next affordable neighborhood. The workmanlike homes and low rents of Bryant and Central seem awfully vulnerable.

Marjaan Sirdar has seen the same changes.

“For me, I hang out on Nicollet now and there’s Pat’s Tap or Hola Arepa, and I’m often the only person of color eating or drinking there,” Sirdar told me. “There might be people of color working there, maybe one or two.”

“This co-op is a symptom of gentrification, as well as a force for gentrification,” Sirdar said. “And my point is that when black and brown folks have needs, where’s the city? Where’s development? Where are commercial developers and businesses saying ‘Hey, there’s a need. Let’s respond to that’”?


The future of Bryant

CANDO hashtags

Members of the Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization. Photo by Bill Lindeke.

The Seward story has no easy answers.What responsibility does a co-op grocery store, or any new development, have for its impact?

But the question I end up asking myself is that, if a cooperatively-owned grocery store that explicitly values social justice can’t agree to firm commitments about wages and minority hiring, then who will?

Given the long history of 38th Street as a center of Minneapolis’ African-American culture, the Seward expansion raises important questions about how social and economic segregation works in Minneapolis. Maybe there are ways to wrest a bit more control from our businesses and developers, and let capitalism feel its edges more clearly around issues like race and class.

To me, the key question for gentrification debates revolves not around whether a project is “good” or “bad,” but requires asking the follow-up question: “Good for who?” Who will benefit from the jobs and food at the new 38th Street store? Will it matter to the diverse majority of people in Central and Bryant?

Meanwhile construction continues at the new store. According to the Seward’s Tom Vogel, the exterior is “really coming along.” Work has begun installing interior walls, and soon they’ll be laying asphalt and landscaping  the parking lot. A hiring fair is set for August 16th, and hundreds of new employees will sign contracts.


A meeting this week at CANDO to discuss the proposed Seward CBA. Photo by Bill Lindeke.

Store managers aren’t planning on signing any agreements with the surrounding neighborhoods before opening day. Organizers from CANDO met this week to brainstorm ways to raise attention to the issue. They’re planning on regular Sunday door knocks (meet every Sunday at Noon at CANDO’s main offices). They’re launching a Facebook campaign featuring the hashtags #CBAnow and #OwnersForCBA.

Lacking buy-in from the co-op officials or neighboring associations, getting firm agreements about minority hiring or low-income discounts seems like an uphill battle.

Opening day is set for October. What happens after that is anybody’s guess.


The Seward Friendship Store under construction. Photo by Kayla Steinberg.

121 thoughts on “The Seward Friendship Store sparks return of the co-op war

  1. I feel for the neighborhood. I see Mississippi Market going much the same way, despite efforts to move into underserved neighborhoods. My recommendation to all who are concerned about these issues – join the coops and get on the board, and start making the decisions. Despite the “cooperative” nature of the businesses, they are big enough that nothing gets past the board and exec director. If they don’t understand the issues, it doesn’t get addressed.

  2. At the risk of seeming to split sectarian hairs, I take issue with Craig Cox’s analysis:

    “One of the leaders there, Moe Burton, was a former Black Panther organizer and a real leader in that community. Back at that time, the Marxist-Leninist folks really saw the Bryant-Central Co-op as a place where they could make a statement. And they tried and failed. As what happened with a lot of neighborhood co-ops, after that, people drifted away and it just went out of business,” Cox told me.
    The radical past adds an historic twist to today’s situation, with the Seward Co-op literally erecting its sign on 38th Street. As Cox says, “the hippies won.”

    Mo Burton was a Maoist in the same way the CO was Maoist, but the CO was being led like a cult without any public discussion of its analysis or strategies. Theophillus Smith considered Mo Burton a threat to his leadership (it was almost a Northside black versus a Southside black power trip) and he directed his thugs to disrupt business at Mo’s Co-op. It is my understanding that the disruptions by the CO Marxist-Leninists was the principal reason the Bryant-Central Co-op failed. So, in that sense, the hippies didn’t win. Everybody lost.

  3. Comprehensive and brilliant! I hope Debra who wrote that awful article for south side pride on the CBA is taking notes.

  4. for years I’ve watched people have to leave the neighborhood to shop for food, our property value go down, businesses open and close. The Coop is a needed business in our community and there are many that agree. There are some that don’t and a lot of them don’t even live in this neighborhood! The coop has worked with the community since the beginning and has been much more patient then most businesses would. Now it’s time for them to open and lead the way for more businesses to open. The neighborhood will change this is true. People will shop in our neighborhood now. People will open other businesses in our neighborhood now. We might be able to gather and spend time outside in our neighborhood now
    This story shows pictures of an old garden store with signs in the planter but doesn’t tell the true story of a deserted corner that might have a chance of becoming something again if this part of 38th is redeveloped
    I want to keep a diverse neighborhood too and will as I plan to stay in it! I’d like the group in CANDO to spend some time focusing their energy on what other great businesses can join in 38th avenue and show support of the business that is in the Bryant neighborhood by helping people apply for jobs there and get excited about it instead of trying to make a good thing not succeed when it is sorely needed. Allow the Coop that so many of us are so excited about opening do so with great success. Stop trying to keep our neighborhood down!

    • That’s an interesting position for you to tell CANDO how to better spend their time. It’s almost as if you didn’t even read the article.

      • The Twin Cities has an undeniable geography of opportunity, education, jobs in the region, and it leaves people of color out in the proverbial cold. No other place in America, one of the most unequal countries in the Global North, offers such opportunity for white people and so little to the rest. And nowhere do these contrasts play out so vividly as in Minneapolis.

          • White people moving to communities of color does not equate to desegregation. Integration can only happen when people of color are operating from equal positions of power as whites. Otherwise you end up w “racially diverse” communities where whites hold all the power. That’s what we’re seeing in south central. I would still call that segregation. I am actually calling for integration: thru economic uplift for black and brown people.

        • The story left out some important history. Memories are short. Seward actively killed the North Country Coop on the West Bank. They went after them. It was ugly. Seward is not affordable. I know because it is close to me. I can’t afford to shop there. Wait until the neighborhood sees the prices. CANDO should watch their backs.

          • Seward coop did not kill North Country Coop. I know this for a fact. Changing demographics, challenging financial management, and a slow response to market changes are why North Country closed. Some decisions were made and others were not and this had NCC in trouble for far too long. The other coops worked hard to keep NCC going, including Seward, through loans and management assistance. In the end the hole was too big and NCC was left with little choice. Seward did not ‘go after’ NCC. ‘Cooperation among Coops’ is one of the cooperative principals. If NCC could have been saved, it would have been. Many people put in many long hours, often for free, to see it survive.

      • Well, the Co-op is hiring close to 100 PEOPLE FROM THE NEIGHBORHOOD. It is a very simple principal that has been in effect forever. When people have good jobs in a neighborhood, crime goes down and people generally have a higher quality of life. Then people of all races want to live in a neighborhood like this. Therefor rents and home prices may go up. The opposite is true. If you want cheap rent and very low taxes, make a neighborhood with no jobs with lots of criminals raping and killing. You will then create your utopia of a cheap place to live.

  5. Seems like the Seward Coop is saying, “We’re going to ignore the 7th principle of cooperative businesses (Concern for Community) until it’s more convenient for us to address CANDO’s concerns”.

  6. I’d be curious about how different co-ops operate differently in the Twin Cities. Are there differences in how Mississippi Market, the Wedge, and Seward approach things like CBAs, hiring targets, etc.?

    And what about the smaller co-ops in the area?

    • there is only one small co-op left: hampden park near raymond in st. paul.
      They have all the NCGA framework to grow and I’m sure they will whenever they decide to.
      the days of volunteering at a co-op for free food or a discount are over.
      they just grow as much as they can like any corporation, but hopefully they operate on some type of dichotic bottom line

  7. Bill,
    Thank you SO much for this article. What excellent interviewing, history, mapping, pictures, etc. A+

    You really send the point home when you remind readers that the co-op’s values are based in social justice and yet they cannot even sign an agreement with their neighbors in regards to…social justice. Sigh.

    It makes me sad that the community has not been given the same opportunity to create their OWN grocery store in the way that THEY want it. I am sensing a bit of the “savior” approach with the co-op. Let us in, we will save you from your food desert! We will take advantage of the low property values to build a store with overpriced food! And so on. (I say this as a multi-food-co-op member)

    Thanks again, so much, for writing this. Important stuff.

  8. Why deny the neighborhood it something it desperately needs? Who cares if it gentrifies the area, it’s already happened on the other side of the bridge. All this will do is start bringing further investment in an area where there is no private businesses that are beneficial for the community. It will attract other investors and small progressive businesses and lower the crime rate. There is so much anti-business sentiment in this city as it is.

    The natural foods co-ops are always put in a weird place because they are stuck deciding as to whether they want to make money (which is the right idea) or try some half-assed scheme to be ethical (the wrong idea). Most co-ops don’t listen to their members anyways and the most successful ones run a ruthlessly aggressive business model that targets clientele with money. There is nothing wrong with wanting success, if the neighborhood wanted to do something like this with all the caveats they’re imposing they should have done it themselves. All that’s in the area right now are a bunch of Bodegas that attract crime, this is a chance to fix that.

    • Bodegas do not attract crime. Poverty creates crime. This is basic economic understanding. The problem with gentrification when it involves racial disparity, is that it pushes economically and socially marginalized populations farther and farther out of their communities. I’ve seen it in my own neighborhood in Saint Paul. I’ve lived it as well. This problem is not an either-or-fallacy, and no one has all the answers. Yet…

      This issue of racial inequality in our counties will not be solved by the same arguments that have continued for 100 years. When one comments “who cares… “or, “this is needed so let’s just see what happens”, one effectively gas lights the other. Black and brown people are asking to be heard. These kinds of comments only serve to silence the concerned, which limits effective dialog. Let us all think about the what the broader affects of these types of comments are and the effects they produce.

  9. I’m eager to see this co-op open. My only complaint is that it’s not closer to my house.

    Sure, there are winners and losers as a neighborhood gentrifies. Sure, we should work towards a system that is more equitable in terms of business ownership and self-determination of a community. But the concern over a co-op opening is misplaced. Frankly, we wouldn’t be having this discussion if a Whole Foods or Lunds or Kowalski’s was opening up. But that begs the question: Why is it a co-op’s responsibility, a new business doing well for a community on a single parcel of land, to fix the injustices of two entire neighborhoods? It is not.

    To me, it sounds like some people are saying they’d rather not have this co-op as it is planned today. Like that’s a better option for the neighborhood? The solution to gentrification cannot be disinvestment: That’s logically an elitist and anti-equity position. It says that a neighborhood should repel investment to keep rents down by making a neighborhood less appealing to newcomers. It says that “nice” neighborhoods like 48th and Chicago, or now 38th and Nicollet, or Linden Hills, are only for wealthier and whiter communities. That seems elitist to me… Every community deserves investment, and every community member deserves a quality built environment.

    I agree that there are problems with equity, and that gentrification is at least somewhat concerning (even though the word is so loaded and intentionally vague that I dislike it). But the solution to those concerns is to focus on crafting additional new investments, not fighting private investments like this co-op.

    • For the record, nobody I talked to wanted the co-op to go away. Most everyone seems to want it on 38th Street. It’s just that the organizers would like to make sure it helps people living nearby, as much as possible.

    • …today’s new struggle suggests that the tension between profit and politics is as alive as ever. In today’s co-ops, explicit politics is replaced by consumption. Customers and member-owners can browse for ideologies, choosing how engaged they want to be through labels while professional organizers with petitions are relegated to the street corner outside.

  10. A well-researched & well written article. I have a few comments to add:

    We have lived in the Bryant neighborhood for the past 8 years. Prior to that, we lived in Kingfield (within a mile or two from our current home). One of the things that attracted us to the neighborhood was the racial & cultural diversity. We didn’t want to live in an all-white suburb. We are fortunate to have an awesome group of neighbors and friends.

    When my wife and I first heard about the co-op opening we were ecstatic (and still are). In my opinion it is a long needed & welcome addition to Bryant and the surrounding area. While I understand the concerns about some of the negative aspects of ‘gentrification’, I think the benefits far outweigh the concerns. The area desperately needed a full size grocery store. While I can certainly understand that it will be more expensive than Cub Foods, it does not have to be too expensive for people of all backgrounds to shop. They offer free classes on how to shop the co-op in an affordable way, and feeding your family by shopping at Seward certainly will be similar in cost to buying groceries at Portland Market, Cup Foods, or Super America (the only other ‘grocery’ shopping opportunities in the immediate vicinity).

    The co-op is the biggest major development in the area than has been seen in many years. It will bring many living wage jobs, and hopefully additional investment in our neighborhood. How can this not be a good thing?

    Mr. Sirdar’s comments about the 38th & Nicollet corner seem a bit misleading. He said “Back then, the neighborhood was a mix of cultures. The corner of 38th and Nicollet offered everything from bodegas to cheap tacos to a Hardware Store and a Salvation Army.” Well, as I am sure he knows, the corner still has cheap tacos, a hardware store, and a Salvation Army. They are all still there. You now also have a coffee shop and 3 new restaurants. Some of these moved into long empty locations. I would consider this a good thing.

    I also lament Mr. Sirdar’s observation that these are largely white spaces. I wish it were not so. I too think we need to work to create spaces where people of all colors coexist. I think we can all work toward this by breaking down invisible barriers. We don’t need just white or black spaces. I frequently patronize local businesses that primarily serve people of color (Smoke in the Pit, Cup Foods, Portland Market, etc). I would encourage people of color to come have a drink & a bite at Nighthawks, Kyatchi, or Blackbird. These are places I think all can enjoy.

    I’m not naïve enough to think that this will solve the issues of racial divide, but it’s a neighborly way to start.

    • Actually, the quote you have there were my words from my experience living in Kingfield back in 2004. I moved back to Saint Paul (I couldn’t stay away), but I’m sure you’re right about the corner improving for most everyone.

      And I completely agree that people in the Twin Cities need to be more adventurous when it comes to new, or cross-cultural, experiences. These kinds of businesses are a great asset that I fear many are missing out on because of overblown fears or subtle timidity.

        • Brian, I often patronize the restaurants on Nicollet that you named. But it’s really hard being the only Black person at these establishments. And it’s hard to justify spending my money in restaurants where front of the house staff are all white. Times are changing but economic apartheid remains the driving force behind white supremacy. My response is “we need our own businesses that create income for our own communities.” No one is going to do it for us.

    • I tried last week to enjoy Nighthawks, and left without eating after an all too common occurrence of being ‘blackballed’ by the server. Whether by explicit policy or subconscious fear, many predominately white spaces in recently gentrified neighborhoods are hostile and unwelcoming to people of color. That is the way that gentrification works.

      • That has been my experience at new places along Nicollet as well. This is why we need more spaces for poc in south central!

    • You make CUP foods sound like a legitimate business. This store has been exploiting the poor for years with over priced out dated food. Also allowing gang members and drug dealers stand outside the store. This store is the real blight to South Minneapolis.

  11. Bill, thank you for a well researched piece. You took the time to listen to all sides of this story and, I, as a supporter of the CBA, believe you presented the situation fairly and objectively. Too often we have seen the narrative of the Friendship Store told from Seward’s perspective only. The Tribune article on Wednesday did this. Your article is more balanced.

    There is one other thing that I think needs clarity. We do not oppose Seward or the new store. In fact, we see this as a wonderful opportunity for the community. I live 10 blocks from the store and worked at Sabathani for 16 years. Seward’s development is the biggest economic engine that this community has seen in at least 20 years (if not more). This has great potential to uplift the community. The only thing the CBA does is specify how community members, after extensive survey and input, see the new store benefiting people who currently live in the area. Each item in the CBA may be seen as an objective for Seward and the community to achieve. All we are asking is for Seward to come and talk to us. We understand that the CBA developed by the community is a starting point. Let’s talk about it.

  12. I hope people take the time to read through the draft CBA that Bill provided a link for above. Some of the things CANDO is seeking seem rather excessive to me, such as the essentially 80% discount on membership fees since the balance that is normally covered through patronage refund earnings would instead be funded by “grants” (grants from who? what if Seward is unable to find someone to sponsor these grants, do they just eat the difference?) and $1000 PER DAY monetary damages if the co-op “fails to perform under Sections I (Affordability); II (Employment) and III (Accessibility)” of the CBA.

    • As I understand it, that draft was meant to be a starting point for negotiations, which aren’t happening. Someone involved with it can speak better then myself about it, but I would guess that CANDO members would love to work out specific details and numbers with the Co-op, and come to an agreement.

  13. Can you cite your source for the images of the redlining maps of Minneapolis and Saint Paul? I’m interested in taking a closer look at them.

    • Honestly there aren’t any good images of these maps. One of my goals is to find a high-resolution copy somewhere and have it digitized. I was going to head down to the Minneapolis Central Library or the MHS one of these days and track them down.

      I think redlining, as well as restrictive covenants, steering, and racial violence around homeownership, are a hugely important part of the Twin Cities story that most people don’t seem to know much about.

  14. The neighborhood needs healthy food choices. The neighborhood needs jobs. Christ, does every ghetto-mart have to crawl on their hands and knees to these self styled “community leaders”. Living on the north side you get NO healthy, nutritious options. Frankly your general food choices are something akin to poison. The so called community leaders have failed the community in spectacular fashion. All of them. I would ignore them as much as I could get away with. It is a good thing that the Seward wants to work with the people in neighborhood. However perhaps one should go directly to the people.

  15. I am a current member of the Seward Coop and have been for about 20 years. My experience is that the existing coop employs a diverse group of employees from the neighborhood. I see no problem with the Coop saying that they are going to hire employees from anagreed upon distance from the new 38th St. location. . . . .and think they should consider doing this before opening.

    With respect to dictating the wages of employees, there may be some ramifications to the local community that may be undesirable. . . . .specifically, making the food less affordable. Telling different customers that they have to pay a different price for the same apple seems unreasonable. Also, specifically asking one grocery store to pay a higher wage than surrounding grocery stores, makes that grocery store less profitable and more likely to close.

    It seems as though the first priority is that this neighborhood have a successful local grocery store that offers healthy food at an affordable price, and employs local residents. The organic food options that will be offered will already be more expensive than conventionally produced foods. . . .I am concerned that increasing the cost of selling that food at this new location will make that food even less affordable for the local residents.

      • Really? I shop at Seward regularly, and it doesn’t seem like 86 percent of the workers are white. What’s your source?

        • Sean Doyle Seward gm stated this at the Bryant neighborhood last October. And he followed by stating their goal is to hire 32% people of color by 2019. That’s problematic because Mpls is currently 40% poc while Bryant/Central are 75% poc. We think the coop can do better and we will pushing them on this. There’s such a need for employment in communities of color, this should be a no brainer.

          • I was at a CANDO meeting more than a year ago where Sean Doyle was asked about the racial composition of his management team. He ID’d one manager as “from Madagascar” who actually turns out to be white. So the managers are 100% white. I suspect that most of the POC employed by the co-op are in ‘frontline’ kind of positions– front end, customer service, custodial staff which creates the experience for the customer of a diverse staff. But the people in the back rooms on computers making the decisions are mostly/all white. Also fun fact– Seward is a little more than 40% POC so they’re not reflecting the community over there either.

        • I’ve lived in the Seward Neighborhood for many, many years and shopped at the Seward Coop (I’m a long standing member). As an educated African-American woman, I have applied for jobs over the years at the Seward Coop and was NEVER HIRED! I expect to see a more diverse population of employees at this new store and hopefully, they will be members of the local community.

  16. This honest discussion about co-op’s, gentrification and neighborhood ownership is refreshing and good. Thanks to all for sharing.

  17. I found this to be a really comprehensive and well written piece that raises a lot of important questions about businesses going into new neighborhoods. The concerns expressed by some of the voices quoted in the piece about gentrification, access, social justice, etc., are totally valid and deserve to be taken seriously.

    The article is premised on a couple of statements:

    “Once the store opens and thousands of people begin pouring onto 38th Street from all corners of the city, asking Seward to change will be much more of a challenge.”

    “By bringing thousands of people from the surrounding whiter neighborhoods onto 38th Street, there’s no doubt that the Seward store will spur change.”

    I think this assumes a lot. What reason have we to believe that “thousands” of higher-income people will “flood” or “pour” into Bryant and Central once this store is built? In general, this is not how grocery stores work. The people who shop in a grocery store usually live very close by. It seems to me that the Friendship store will be frequented by the thousands of people who already live in Bryant and Central, or it will fail.

    I’ve read the CBA document– many of its provisions strike me as excellent ideas. Others tend toward turning the Friendship store from what it fundamentally will be, that is, a store, into more of a center for education and community activism. That may be a laudable goal, but to do this would require significant training for its staff members and perhaps even several full time staffers dedicated to seeing that the CBA is fulfilled. I can see why Seward Co-op might see this as a somewhat onerous and risky thing to do in the early days of a brand new store– an undertaking that’s a risk in itself.

    • Bryant is surrounded by white affluent communities. Kingfield is directly west, Field is 4 blocks south. Bancroft shares its eastern border with Bryant. Also, the plain truth is coop members tend to be disproportionately white because whites have the income to shop at them. When doing outreach in the neighborhood 2 years ago one of the original concerns I heard was “Who is this coop really being built for? The lower income Black and Brown people who inhabit 75% of Bryant/Central, or the White affluent neighbors who surround us? Is our land being used because it is cheap and because the coop can get $3 million in federal tax credits because Bryant is a food desert?”
      These concerns are valid and need to be heard.

  18. I appreciate the intentions from all sides in this: Bill for putting so much time into understanding more of this extremely complex topic, to CANDO for voicing the concerns and going through the effort to draft the CBA, and Seward Community Co-op for undertaking an intentional investment for opening up a vehicle of potential positive change.

    On the surface we are all different, coming from different contexts, cultures, socio-economic statuses, perspectives, etc. Underneath however, we all want to prosper- it is the surface level context and details in which we may get caught up that can divide us.

    This is an extremely complex issue.

    I know that the Friendship Store will be a great success, and I know that the Bryant Central Areas will see great prosperity in the communities where people from all walks of life can grow together.

    I ask you all this: assume best intentions, be patient, be diligent, do everything that YOU can to help others, and appreciate your neighbor, including the ones that are planning to move in.

    Ask yourself the hard questions. And then ask yourself even more difficult questions.

    Bill, can you dig deeper into this topic and learn even more about each side to this story? CANDO, are you willing to be more patient and flexible with your expectations of Seward Coop? Seward Coop, are you able/willing to do everything possible to help this community prosper?

    Only time will tell.

    This is an amazing opportunity for positive change, let us all be aware and appreciative of this while we work even harder to make a positive impact on ourselves and our neighbors.

    • I agree, this could be an amazing opportunity for my community. But “Power concedes nothing without demand. It never has and it never will.” -Frederick Douglass
      We have been organizing around this issue for two years now because Seward organization operates from a white liberal framework completely void of a critical race analysis. They refuse to commit to hiring goals of 70% poc that reflect neighborhood demographics. They have walked out of community meetings where people showed up to ask critical questions. They have sent emails out to their members lying about what took place at a community meeting. Seward is not behaving like a coop. They have created a false dichotomy of “youre either for or against the friendship store.” We are organizing to hold it accountable.

  19. Since when does a neighborhood need an outside, corporate “co-op” to come in and set up a co-op for them? Can’t the folks their just pool together some money, rent a local storefront, stock it with food, and create their own co-op? Isn’t that how co-ops got started in the first place?

    • Back in the 1990s, Craig Cox (and others) spent a long time trying to do just that, but financing is very challenging, and (as Cox says) costs have been going up. The “invite someone in” model is certainly winning the day.

      That said, North Minneapolis is starting a new co-op along the lines you describe: They need 500 people to sign up as members by the end of the year:

      • The neighborhood asked for the grocery store. It’s been a community need and desire for decades! A group of neighbors dedicated towards bringing a full-service grocery store to the community worked for years to bring the store to our area. Not one of these “community leaders” quoted here offered help back then. Our group debated started a co-op but didn’t have the time, energy, or resources to do so. Instead we invited other co-ops and grocery stores to consider our neighborhood. Seward was interested and now we have the store under construction.

        • Eric, if you’re talking about the Carrot Initiative, which I’m guessing your a member of, don’t forget that the group was founded by a commercial developer who claimed you all had no financial interest in the development of the Seward Coop. After doing a little digging I found out that the founder of Carrot Initiative owns a building (now two) on the corner of 38th and Chicago. Just two blocks from the new coop. So the coop development directly impacts his property so he can charge higher rents. Weird…

  20. I’ve grown up around this neighborhood my whole life. There has been nothing in this are forever. Your only food options are over priced corner stores or gas stations. Why is CANDO not focused on helping minorities open sustainable businesses in this area? For years nothing has been on this strip, where was the outrage? Is Seward the answer? Honestly I don’t know, but I do believe it’s better than what’s currently there.

    • CANDO is doing just that! But there is also a need to ensure that Seward friendship store reflects the community in which it is building. People need to hold the coop accountable so that it actually behaves like a coop and not a corporation.
      CANDO is doing great work in the community around racial equity. If you don’t know you better ask somebody!

      • I agree that the community has good reason to have a dialogue with the new co-op. Hiring people that live in the neighborhood just adds local investment in the store. And, as the article states, if liberal-minded entities like coops don’t do their part to advance racial equity, who will? These communities have been squeezed out of economic opportunity over the years, with devastating consequences. It is time to acknowledge that we have been leaving people of color behind. The problem I see here is that people tend to view concessions as a zero-sum game against profits. There have to be benefits of hiring in the community, and offering discounts to residents that aren’t apparent when viewed in a one dimensional profit/loss category. Creating a loyal consumer base close to the store, retaining local employees who feel invested in the store/neighborhood, and appealing to outside customers who appreciate organizations that are socially progressive. The store managers should pay attention and see this for the opportunity that it is.

  21. Excellent, comprehensive article!
    I feel like one viable option toward bridging this gap of trust as the co-op opens could be offering some serious subsidies and discounts for low-income membership in the neighborhood.

    I have benefited a lot from similar discounts from Miss. Market, and it seems like an easy way to bring the neighborhood into the fold, encourage support, and fulfill the community improvement piece all at once.

    You have to make the place desirable to the people living in the hood, simple as that. That’s Business 101.

  22. I can’t afford to shop at Seward and other coops as a senior citizen on a fixed income. When I do I am shocked at how little I get for the amount of money I spend. I was told that the store prices provide the workers with a living wage. I like that. I like the quality of food. But I still can’t afford to shop there regularly no matter where it is located. I learned recently that there was a senior discount. When I asked about it and why it wasn’t advertised more, I was told that it no longer exists, although you could apply for some kind of lower income discount. However, I was told if you ride a bike to the coop, you will get a discount. I can appreciate the concern of the Bryant community and I am sorry Seward isn’t willing to keep in the conversation even if it is hard. The truth is coops represent mostly white middle class shoppers and are no longer guided by progressive ideas. If there is a way to change this, why not work in creative, cooperative ways. We are lied to enough by huge businesses that promise to clean up their waste, or have cheap tickets for ballgames and put off the conversation until after they are open, functioning and then, unwilling to change. Come on Seward. Do all you can. Bend backwards. Give up something. Shake off the corporate model.

  23. Great article. I actually started one of the larger co-ops in the country in Boulder, Colorado, and it failed after five years. Since we could not get the bulk discounts from distributors that Whole Foods could secure, and since we were simply not as streamlined and efficient, prices were higher and wages were lower. It did not matter that all profits were redistributed to our member owners. Nor did it matter that we all held living wages as an ideal. Budgets were too strained that carry out our moral commitments.

    And there were always activists pressuring us on the board to make changes that would have only added further financial strains to the business, thereby threatening more jobs. Everything was contentious because very few people knew what it took to run a business. We also had a fight around being political, with me insisting on it and institutionalizing politics through the creation of a community center, which I ran. It also served the purpose of market differentiation. But it was never enough. The co-op largely collapsed through infighting, and much of it centered around the inability to meet our members’ high expectations.

    My sense is these community activists had no idea what they were doing and that they really screwed up. But who knows? My lesson in governance was that you do not know until you are there in the hot seat. It is the great lesson a co-op can teach scores of people in any community that dedicates itself to making a cooperative work. Cooperatives are schools in democracy and community building. They cannot but help be political in this sense. They bring people together and lend to any community a sense of its own unique character, expressed through its own democratic business. Community thrives where there are cooperatives.

  24. I felt distinctly unwelcome when I shopped at the 4th Ave co-op back in 1975. I was trying to support my neighborhood co-op and I was the wrong color, it seems….

  25. BTW, This is a free market economy. As such, it is inherently racist, oppressive and void of morals and values. You can call this thing a co-op or grocery store or any other name and they can sell doritos or organic kale. It doesn’t really matter. The co-op or grocery store isn’t going to change the nature of the current economic paradigm one way or another. It will simply be where it is with the sole purpose of peddling its product, which in this case is healthy food that is a lot more expensive than Cub or Rainbow.

    I beg all people to question the current economic model because it is the primary organizing component of the social structure that inherently creates socio-economic inequality and environmental instability. It’s not the new co-op’s fault, it’s not Cup Foods fault or SA or any single individual or group.

    The mind is like a parachute, it works a lot better when it’s open…

  26. I guess I’d ask Mirjaan (since he seems to be the primary respondent to most of these comments) What REAL-WORLD example would you prefer in place of the Seward Co-op Friendship store?
    Can you name one?
    It’s a simply question that seeks a real answer.
    I think your answer to that will shed light on the true crux of this debate.

    • Moke,
      The best example I can think of is the Friendship Store that agrees to everything that’s being asked for in the CBA. It would be a win win for all. Everything that is being asked is in the best interest of the coop. It would help unite the community and give many people who have not been happy about this development, buy-in.
      I am not against the coop. I am against a coop that ignores the community in which it is building bc to me that defies the whole point of a coop.
      The most ideal situation would have been (past tense bc it’s too late now) a new Bryant/Central coop. I believe coops should be organically grown from within the communities they do business in. This whole coop expansion era concerns me and if we don’t begin to hold coops accountable they will behave more like corporations: profit driven. Why else would a coop expand to other communities outside their own if not for greater profits? We are asking that Seward give some of those dollars back to Bryant and Central neighborhoods. A community that desperately needs economic uplift.
      Does that answer your question?

      • Just give us everything we want and it will be win win for all. If both groups are not willing to compromise this will be loose loose for all (actually the Co-op will be successful regardless). Why not tie the wage agreements to co-op performance? I live near the Seward Co-op and the new Co-op has not gentrified the neighborhood but it has brought more jobs and revitalized a vacant building.

        • If you read the CBA you will see in big block letters TERMS ARE OPEN TO NEGOTIATION. The truth, the community has nothing to lose. At this point, Seward is not agreeing to anything we are asking for. Everything in CBA spells out racial equity in measurable outcomes. The city of Minneapolis has stated that racial equity is its #1 priority. We really do believe the goals stated in the CBA would benefit the coop by generating community buy-in. Right now, the community is very divided but not “for or against” the coop. Divided on the effects the store will have on the neighborhood. This coop can be an amazing thing for Bryant/Central communities. Or it can be another coop that serves a vastly large white customer base and ignores the people in the neighbor where it operates. Black folks I have talked to would be much more willing to support it if it was staffed with people that look like them, it was affordable, and it invested profits back into the community. Makes sense, right?

  27. It makes sense, from a business perspective, to ensure that the people of the community can shop there. Perhaps the specific requests from the community are not what the co-op is able to provide, but that does not prevent them from sitting down and discussing options and solutions. Co-ops are one of the ways that we can change the balance of money, and ensure that communities are able to sustain themselves. I hope that the co-op realizes that working with the community before it opens and finding a way to make everyone feel like it will be a welcome and successful part of the neighborhood will benefit everyone – the co-op, the members, and the neighborhood. Delaying negotiations does not send the right message for that kind of business model, and it may make it harder in the future to get support from the community when further expansion is needed or desired by the co-op.

  28. I’m not entirely clear on the issue, but are CBAs required for all development projects? I was under the impression that they were a tool used by local communities to ensure community benefit when public monies are involved. If Seward is developing this project without government money, it seems to me they are going above and beyond by even considering a CBA, since this is a legally binding document. If CBAs are not required of private developments, is this agreement (and surrounding controversy) going have a chilling effect on future private development for Bryant and Central? Is Seward getting some kind of public subsidy?

    • According to the Strib, Seward received $3.2 million in federal subsidies bc Bryant is A “FOOD DESERT.” Some people in the community believe their land is being used bc it is cheap and really Seward is more interested in their customer base in the white affluent communities that surround south central.
      Also, I believe they received 300k from the city of Mpls for hiring people of color but I do not have a credible source for that info.
      Bill, do you know the answer?

  29. While the article is very interesting I’m in the dark about exactly what the differences are between CANDO and Seward. I’ve read the CANDO document and the Seward Q&A and a couple of the comments allude to some issues, but I’m not clear on what the specific issues are, what exactly CANDO is asking for that Seward is resisting. There are a lot of points of view about generalities in the article but I’m not sure what to think about them since I don’t know what the details of the differences are.

    • The three main areas of the CBA: firm commitments to hiring people of color. Discounts for low-income customers on membership and food. Wages.

      The proposed numbers are in the CBA, but my sense is that CANDO would be happy to negotiate the specifics with the Seward.

  30. I’m really curious to know what the actual sign outside of the store is going to say. Is it going to be the “Seward Co-op Friendship Store”? Or will it be the “Bryant-Central Co-op”? (I had no idea that there actually was a Bryant-Central co-op in the 70’s! Awesome!) Wouldn’t the Seward want to make that connection to the history of the community and name it accordingly? As someone commented earlier, ‘Friendship store’ has a certain ‘savior-complex’ ring to it..

    And I’m also wondering if technically this still can be considered a ‘Co-op’. I understand that we live in a different economy than the 70’s and the business model has evolved, but keep in mind that your average person hears ‘C0-0p’ and defines that as ‘Specialty foods store’. NOT as a specific business model where by definition the owners, workers, and shoppers are all one in the same (or that at least is the goal). So what is it called when one neighborhood co-op makes so much profit that they are able to expand into an entirely different neighborhood/community and operate and control that store exclusively? Is it a franchise? Will this store have all the same branding and products as Seward? I’m surprised and disappointed that they would push back against well-meaning community members wanting to ‘take ownership’ of their neighborhood co-op, as they indeed should.

    I live right in between where Seward is and where the new store will be. I’m not a member but I do occasional shopping there to get things I like that I can’t find anywhere else, but honestly I can find most of the basic, whole foods I need at Cub for a fraction of the price. And my guess is that most Bryant-Central residents will do the same. I’m so tired of hearing other middle-income people say things to the effect of “all we need to do is just TEACH low-income people how to spend their money properly, then they can enjoy doing their grocery shopping in the same wonderful place that we do!” It’s not that simple. Ever. And it’s condescending to suggest that hard working people supporting two, three, four or five children don’t know anything about a household budget.

    It’s time we give low-income people a little more credit. And I think demanding subsidies and other cost-reducing strategies for people in the neighborhood is absolutely necessary. Isn’t that simply in the same spirit of what C0-0ps were originally made to do?

  31. Great points Kristen! And great questions! I think you answered one of your own questions: No the new store will not be call the Bryant/Central Coop because it is not a Bryant/Central Coop, it is a Seward Coop. To name it the Bryant/Central Coop would be misleading.

    I agree 100% with your comment about “teaching low-income families how to budget” and I would even add offering cooking classes to “teach low-income families how to cook on a budget” is also condescending. That would be better off advertised on teaching “young people” how to cook and shop on a budget but not poor people. I’m glad you named this!

    • The classes on how to shop the co-op affordably are not called “teaching low-income families how to budget”….from their website:

      How to Shop the Co-op
      Your guide to shopping smart – economically, environmentally, & socially. The co-op strives to provide healthful foods from local providers, while at the same time offering products and services that allow shoppers to stretch their food dollar. Here are some ideas to help you shop thrifty while shopping at the co-op.

      Does not sound condescending to me.

  32. This article and the band-wagoners promoting it have really crossed the line. Anyone familiar with the Seward Co-op knows how devoted they are to social justice. Could anyone please show me a more diverse staff? Furthermore, they offer many similar programs to those proposed by CANDO. Not meeting all of this groups demands does not mean the co-op is contribution to gentrification. Also, why would any organization make a compact with an activist group what opens them up to litigation and the loss of decades of ACTIVISM. I believe the co-op will bring upward the economy of this area, not threaten it.

    Does CANDO realize how badly it appears to the broader community, when it attacks a progressive institution? Have they considered, that attacking friendly community partners may make people who are otherwise compassionate to their aim, doubt anything they have to say?

    • “Activist group” isn’t a fair description. CANDO is the neighborhood group for this neighborhood, one of Minneapolis 70+ such organizations. Their board is elected by anyone who shows up at the meetings. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of Minneapolis’s neighborhood groups, and rarely do I encounter one whose membership actually reflects the demographic composition of the area. (This is especially true in places with a lot of renters, young people, and/or people of color.) CANDO is an exception to that rule.

      • An activist group is categorically a group that campaigns for social change. Consistent with a lot activist groups, CANDO’s misplaced criticism and unrealistic demands marginalize them and their efficacy.

        • And what role does the activist group “At the Roots” have to do with this? Other articles claim they are at the root of this push.

        • Here’s the city’s page on Neighborhood Associations, of which CANDO is one:

          Here’s the Neighborhood Board diversity study:

          Here’s an article I wrote about board diversity and outreach for neighborhood associations in South Minneapolis:

          • “An activist group is categorically a group that campaigns for social change.”
            Clearly Cory is against social change. I’m guessing Cory is a white, privileged male who considers himself “liberal.” And of course Minneapolis is #1…nothing needs to be fixed.
            Cory, Sean Doyle, Seward gm, stated last October that they employed 14% people of color (86% Whites). Real diverse! Every commercial grocery store I go to is far more diverse than Seward. Your white liberal framework is offensive. You need to check yourself!
            If Seward were so committed to social justice then this cba would be a no-brainer. We firmly hold that this cba is good for Seward organization as well as the community. This cba will help generate more community buy-in.
            You say Seward will bring up the economy…my question is for who?
            You say CANDO is attacking Seward…please show one attack CANDO has made against Seward. It has been quite the opposite: Seward has attacked CANDO numerous times.
            You need to get your facts checked.
            “Have they considered, that attacking friendly community partners may make people who are otherwise compassionate to their aim, doubt anything they have to say?” This statement is sooooooo problematic! Imagine just for one minute we live in a racialized world. I know, hard to believe for a white liberal. Now imagine how your statement above sounds coming from a White person speaking to Black and Brown organizers….do you see how racist it is? Do you see how your world view is so entrenched in white supremacy?

    • Aldi’s pays $16/hour, employs overwhelming majority people of color at their Minneapolis locations, and provide inexpensive quality food.

      • I was in Aldi’s yesterday for the first time. The place was horrible. It doesn’t even come close to the Seward Coop. I can honestly say that I will never go back. The place was a mess, dirty, you dug your food out of cardboard boxes, and the fruit/vegetable options were horrible. Organic food options were non existent. Is this really what the neighborhood wants? Seward is a locally owned business with far better healthy food options that are often sourced locally and is not a corporate giant like Aldi’s that buys junk food by the truckload. To compare the two is ridiculous.

        • John Erwin, you have the privilege take your money and drive to Seward, others do not. I am concerned that you, an elected official, lack such basic understanding of white privilege.

          • Actually, I walk to Seward – it is my neighborhood store. My preference to eat healthy food, and support others having access to healthy food options has nothing to do with white privilege. It is very much about supporting locally produced food from local farmers that is accessible, is high quality, is affordable, and offers healthy food options for all Minneapolis residents.

    • John Erwin, let’s talk about “access” to healthy foods…the CBA is trying to do just that. Just bc a coop is built in the middle of south central does not mean those people in the community have “access” to the products being sold there. The simple arrival a coop is not going to change people’s lifestyle. Economic uplift to a community that so desperately needs it, will. The CBA spells that out…

      • Mirjaan,

        So poor people lack “access” to healthy foods if those foods are sold for money? The Seward Co-Op is tasked with changing people’s lifestyle?

        Aldi is a huge German company that purveys food of very low quality at low prices to mostly communities of color. They are not your friends.


        • I think the Aldi comparison is quite interesting! For people looking for economic opportunity, it’s not about being “friends.” And who owns the store might not matter very much. It’s about hours, wages, and affordability.

          Should Seward get a pass on wages or diversity in hiring because their food is healthier, organic, or because they have member-owners? How much do people in poverty care about who owns the store?

          Certainly somewhat… but I’ve been most surprised by the big difference in perspectives between white co-op shoppers/owners (like myself) and people of color about whether a place like Seward is automatically good because of its environmental stance.

          What’s more important: organic vegetables or a living wage?

  33. Where is the Bryant Neighborhood Organization in all of this? After all, the store is being built in the Bryant neighborhood, not in Central. Is the Bryant Neighborhood Org on board with CANDO’s proposed CBA? Does Bryant have a better working relationship with the co-op? If the co-op is to be believed, it sure seems so.

    Yes, CANDO represents the neighborhood right across 38th Street, and the co-op will undoubtedly impact the Central neighborhood. However, it seems to be an overreach for CANDO to propose a CBA independent of the Bryant Neighborhood Org. Or are Bryant and CANDO on the same page?

    • Cory, Debra’s article is so balanced she only cited Seward. Also, Debra’s facts were wrong!. She inaccurately cited At the Roots when she should not have mentioned them at all. They had nothing to do with the video mentioned in the article. Everyone who has actually been involved in organizing the CBA thinks Debra’s article is garbage. She is a proxy for Seward.

      • Marjaan- please don’t lump “everyone” together with thinking Debra’s article is garbage. I was involved with the CBA (until I realized people weren’t serious) and do not think it is so. This article (above) is very one-sided and makes it look like Seward is the big, bad monster. That simply is not the case. If BNO and CANDO truly wanted a CBA, they would have gotten together with Seward from the start and worked positively to bring one to fruition. Having closed meetings to come up with demands and then presenting them to Seward is not the way to work toward a real CBA.

        • Luke, I don’t recall you ever being at a CBA meeting…and if you are from the school of thought that believes CANDO and BNO should be proxies for Seward then your comments make sense.

        • Luke,

          Has anyone seen any list of demands that Seward insists CANDO meet before the store opening?

          Perhaps CANDO will guarantee certain sales targets? Maybe CANDO will guarantee that all locals hired will perform to high expectations? I assume CANDO might promise to protect the store from vandalism or theft.

          There could then be a list of damages detailing how much money CANDO will be obligated to pay Seward for every day that CANDO fails to keep up its end of the bargain.

          Hmmm . . . seems nicely balanced to me!


          • Joe, your position implies that local employees will not perform up to high expectations and that the neighborhood wants to steal from and vandalize the store that’s not even built yet.

  34. A very interesting article about a very complicated situation and evolution of a city.
    I have a few quibbles with the reporting. “A hiring fair is set for August 16th, and hundreds of new employees will sign contracts.” While this makes a tidy segue into the next paragraph, I question the accuracy of the statement. I don’t think employees ‘sign contracts’.

  35. I am not a person of color but I have lived in the Central neighborhood within walking distance of Sabathani for over 21 years. I have long regretted not being able to spend more money locally, and I wholeheartedly welcome the new Seward Co-op. Soon I will be able to walk there to spend money, rather than traveling outside Central to get high-quality produce. I do not fear prosperity in Central, I am not afraid of people with money choosing to spend it in our neighborhood, and I am upset that CANDO is trying to push back against this great neighborhood business.
    An abandoned piece of land has been fixed up, a beautiful building is close to completion, the neighborhood will soon have a great source of food, jobs, and just plain positive street energy yet all CANDO can do is see the downside? CANDO insists that Seward Co-Op has to meet a list of demands? Something is seriously wrong with this organization’s thinking. CANDO ought to be sending Seward a bouquet of flowers with a note saying “Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
    To Cando I want to say that I ended my efforts to participate in CANDO years ago because the meetings were so often dominated by this sort of myopic groupthink that cannot understand the true threats to our streets and our families (clue: it is not organic vegetables, owners who fix up their properties, white people, or people who want to spend money legally in Central) so they focus on straw targets.
    To Seward Co-Op I wish to say that many of us are eager to welcome your store to the neighborhood we love, CANDO does NOT represent all the locals, and I look forward to all the positive changes that will no doubt follow your opening.

    • Joe, it sounds like you would rather CANDO be a proxy for Seward rather than a force to fight for racial equity in the Central neighborhood. Am I reading you correct? With 80% of Central residents people of color, unlike you, and majority renters, disproportionate low income families and high unemployment plaguing the people of Central, I believe CANDO is doing exactly what they ought to be doing.

      • Marjaan,

        I respect your desire for change. I can certainly attest to the problems of low income and high unemployment in Central (recall I have been living here for over two decades and have endured periodic stressful unemployment myself during that time). Nonetheless it is distressing to see yourself and others think that part of the “fight for racial equity” is to gang up on Seward Co-Op. The list of demands and “damages,” outlined in the draft CBA are shocking examples of “biting the hand that feeds” – pun very much intended. I am afraid that CANDO, in a sincere but shortsighted attempt to be part of a solution, has actually become part of the problem. In future, other organizations who want to invest in Central may think twice out of fear that CANDO will present a similar list of demands and damages to be paid if those demands are not met.

        It is a curious sort of reasoning that has taken root in my neighborhood lately. Many of the problems in neighborhoods like Central stem from middle-class flight and massive disinvestment starting in the fifties and accelerating in the sixties and seventies. Property values sank, legitimate businesses closed, crime soared, and Central’s image took a real beating. Drivers wanted to speed through Central as fast as possible and not stop. Many of my friends and family thought I was insane to choose a life in Central. When my car was vandalized. my house repeatedly broken into, and drugs sold openly in front of my home, they insisted I ought to leave. Astonishingly, the departure of the middle class created all these problems, yet the return of the middle class only worsens them!

        The middle class – hated when they leave Central, hated even more when they come back.

        Somehow, in 2015, Central’s problems are exacerbated by white return, financial investment, and an improving image that makes drivers want to stop and spend money among us? People who saw property values plummet are now worried that property values are rising TOO FAST? Many use desparaging tones when speaking of “luxury apartments and towers” as though things in Central were better when such things were only being built in Eden Prairie or Maple Grove and their occupants spent their money in the suburbs. Even though I have been a part of the fabric of Central this long, I still get people whispering under their breath “there goes the neighborhood” every time I fix up the exterior of my house, install new appliances, or improve the landscaping in front of my home. Some people seem convinced that anyone who fixes up Central, who wants to spend money here, must be an invader, a usurper, a malevolent threat to be opposed in the names of “racial equity.”.

        You are free to boycott Seward Co-Op, that is your right. There are other places farther afield where you and the folks of CANDO can procure groceries. I fully expect that some Central residents will resent me for spending money locally, the way they resent me hiring local contractors to improve my house. As a longtime Central resident I welcome the new money and new construction that point to a brighter, healthier, more hopeful future for Central, the people who live here now and those who will live here after you and I are gone.


        • Joe, you seem to hold the position that white uplift communities and poc bring down communities. I ask that you rewrite your comments with a critical racial analysis. Otherwise you and I are not even speaking the same language.

          I appreciate your honesty on message boards. I just hope you are equally honest in person. You actually believe that people want to live run down communities. This is white liberalism at its finest. Black and Brown people want vibrant communities. We also want self-determination. Businesses, developers, and government respond to white people differently than they do to people of color. Our issues and needs are often neglected. So when white people move in to communities of color and there voices are heard by the entities mentioned above, there is often resentment. Black and Brown folks want responsible development that brings jobs for their people. At the root of this issue is the need for economic justice. Seward can help with this. But all indicators suggest that they will not without a demand. As of last October their current store employed 86% white people. That is absurd by all measures. This is why communities of color have so many issues, because of discrimination in employment and education. Everybody deserves to be a part of the middle class, not just white people. But when it comes time to actually make this a reality, white people are silent. White liberals actions do not match up to their “theories” of equality. The CBA lays out racial equity in measurable outcomes. The section on “damages” is open to negotiation, as is the whole document, but the penalties that are currently on the document are just a starting point. It makes more sense to me to start off high and come down than to start off low and work down to nothing. The point of this section is that a CBA has to have some real teeth otherwise it’s just a good faith document. And people of color know better than to trust white people for their “word.” My Native brothers and sisters can speak to that.

    • Author’s note: I’m a bit frustrated that the conversation here has become limited to “either you support what’s happening with no changes” or “you’re against the new store.” As I said, nobody I’ve met is against the store coming.

      The key debate: Should Seward agree to commitments about wages, hiring, and low-income discounts before it opens?

      CANDO wants them to do this. Seward is not negotiating, even though they say they would like to.

      What do you think about that key question?

      Could a store succeed even if it agreed to a CBA? If not, why not?

      Would the store be better or worse if it had a certain % of POC working there? Is this realistic? If not, why not?

      Should co-ops offer discounts to low-income people? If not, why not? If so, how much?

      (There are lots more questions too…)

      Simply repeating that “the neighborhood is against groceries” is missing out on an interesting debate.

      • Bill,

        If you have not met anyone who is against the store coming, you have not been listening to several of the conversations I have had with community residents out walking around or hanging out at Hosmer Library. Were I a representative of Seward Co-Op I also would not negotiate with CANDO or any other organization that included the “Default and Remedies” section of the proposed CBA. This absurd and insulting section speaks volumes about how little CANDO understands our economy and how to encourage positive change in Central.

        To the questions you posed, I would add:

        “Should a store that refuses, on principle, to dignify CANDO’s demands nonetheless be encouraged to bring jobs, food, and positive energy to a previously blighted corner of our community?”

        I know how I would answer that!


      • The key debate: Should Seward agree to commitments about wages, hiring, and low-income discounts before it opens?
        I don’t know, I’d have to know the repercussions of not meeting commitments, which I assume is laid out in the CBA. I’d also like to ensure that the Seward Co-op has reasonable prices for all people and I’d like to know how these different programs affect that. I’d also like to make sure that the commitments don’t ultimately doom the store, so I wonder if the CBA has protections for Seward if the store begins to operate at a loss.

        Could a store succeed even if it agreed to a CBA? If not, why not?
        I don’t know how anyone could answer this, since every CBA is different.

        Would the store be better or worse if it had a certain % of POC working there? Is this realistic? If not, why not?
        I definitely think it would be better to be more reflective of the community. I don’t know if it’s realistic. I’m sure the store also wants to hire employees that believe in it’s mission and are educated about it’s products and services. Maybe CANDO (I live there, by the way) could provide some matching funding to Seward to do “co-op training” that will both educate the neighborhood about the opportunities and the possible benefits and challenges a co-op brings. I’m sure a lot of people of color don’t shop at co-ops today, but they can actually be more affordable/convenient than other grocery stores for many products. So I think they should commit to some goal but probably not 80% but maybe 40-50% would be a good compromise. But even then, I think the neighborhood group has a responsibility then to provide education to the community about the opportunity and maybe even training that would make them better potential employees. Are we even sure that enough people in the neighborhood want to work there that this could be met?
        Side note: if Seward is employed with a bunch of people of color that resent the store and what it’s doing for the community (there are hints of that in this article), then I think that would be a real shame.

        Should co-ops offer discounts to low-income people? If not, why not? If so, how much?
        This is the trickiest part for me. Discounts on membership? Sure. Discounts on food? Ehhhh. I mean, by all means, shop at Aldi’s. I don’t pretend that Seward is going to have cheap groceries, but I’ll shop there for other reasons. Aldi’s didn’t decide to build here, Seward did. Can we think of something different? Perhaps CANDO can run a “volunteer” program where people volunteer for different neighborhood initiatives (like cleaning up street trash) and get Seward credits? Maybe Seward would provide some matching funding for that? Personally, as a Central resident, I’d like to see CANDO and Seward work together to change both institutional racism but also apathy toward the neighborhood that exists among many low-income families.

        Perhaps I should go to a CANDO meeting again, but I would also say that it can be tough to be a white person in a neighborhood that is predominately people of color. If I’m not actively fighting against racism on every issue, I’m not listened to. And if I bring up an issue that seems to be prevalent in the neighborhood (crime, trash, poor maintenance, etc) I’m assumed to be racist. Just to be clear, I don’t have to like everything about every culture to not be a racially prejudice. That just makes me human.

        • Cole, Seward announced last October at a Bryant neighborhood meeting that they employed 86% white people in a neighborhood that is only 50% white. If that is possible why is it “unrealistic” for Seward to employ 70% poc in a community that is 80% poc?
          Also, if Seward commits to hiring people of color this will reduce the “resentment” for the store. It would give populations who often feel excluded by coops ownership. It’s a no-brainer.
          I find your comment “apathy toward the neighborhood that exists among many low-income families” problematic. Central is nearly 50% renters. The vast majority of its landlords do not live in Central. I have seen some dilapidated properties, properties so neglected, and such bad conditions for the renters, I’m surprised the city hasn’t stepped in. Those landlords who are high income earners have apathy for the neighborhood. Your generalization that poor people don’t care about their neighborhood, and even more specific, you are implying Black and Brown people don’t care about their neighborhood is incredibly racist. I think a more accurate statement is young people do not understand what it means to be responsible stewards of their neighborhood AND low income people do not have the privilege to invest in their neighborhood because most of their time is consumed trying to meet their basic needs. I grew up poor so I know a little bit about this.

  36. I found myself wondering: what is the %POC in Seward Neighborhood? Does the current Seward store reflect that % at all?

  37. As a Central neighborhood resident, my proximate food source would be Cup Foods, which is terribly overpriced, sells expired merchandise and has limited healthy choices. It is dirty and grubby and there is always trash strewn all over the sidewalks adjacent. Cup is not an asset to our neighborhood. Why the outcry over a locally based quality grocery store with healthy food choices opening in our community? I doubt that a national chain would work with the neighborhood in the way that Seward has been doing. I think all residents in our neighborhood deserve a clean, well run place to buy healthy food. Most items will cost far less than the aforementioned store at 38th & Chicago.

    • I completely disagree about cup foods and I caution white people to be careful before calling places owned and operated by people of color “dirty”. Cup is a rare example of people of color self-determination, an establishment that provides a wide variety of products and services for poc, including fresh produce. And Cup employs 100% people of color. I would love to see the coop compete with that.

  38. Fresh, healthy food from the coop is CHEAP!

    Just like your car, your brain needs quality fuel to run efficiently. One study found that eating unhealthy foods puts you at a 66% increased risk of productivity loss. Eating a healthy, balanced diet to make sure your brain has the fuel it needs means more energy and increased productivity.

    When it comes to eating healthier, quality trumps quantity. Fresh foods contain fewer low-nutrient fillers that the body burns through quickly. If you are buying and eating less food, then you will have more money in your pocket.

  39. Something that often is missing from discussions of affordability is the impact that certain types of development has on the affordability for small business development. Here, we have the Seward Co-op coming in, using a federal subsidy to bring what some people are saying would “help” the neighborhood. But, what other options were considered with the neighborhood input? Were there any potential small business owners within the neighborhood who could have served the neighborhood needs better that maybe just needed a small financial boost to get started? Has a grant program to help the neighborhood’s own potential business owners develop the area ever been considered?

  40. Hampden Park Coop is no longer the last volunteer discount model. What is so sad is that the volunteer board hired a Mississippi Market former employee to be it’s new General Manager. The goal of financial solvency superceded community. A true Coop War for the grass roots neighborhoods is long over due.

  41. I believe that Co-ops in the city have failed as community resources, The emphasis on organic food and their margin structure has priced their product out of reach for many of my neighbors. And I hate the name ” Friendship”. As one community activist said to me, “It feels to me like they’re saying ‘we’re going to go to Central to give those coloreds some white privilege food.'”

    Co-ops used to be active politically on issues that reached beyond their own needs. Nowadays it feels like Co-ops are only concerned with organics. With their higher priced foods and higher than grocery industry margins, they’ve managed to price themselves out of my price range,

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