Wirth Co-op reports progress on site, developer partner


To get enough members, there needs to be a location. To get a location, there need to be enough members.

Wirth Cooperative Grocery recently identified a potential site and secured a development partner. Assisted by Katya Pilling as project manager since early 2013, they’ve found 555 Girard Ave. N., empty land currently owned by Minneapolis Public Housing Authority (MPHA).

Pilling said the housing authority is doing master planning for all the land they own in the area; “we’ve had conversations with them and hope to continue throughout the summer.”

Two other potential sites were identified but had significant drawbacks, leaders said.

The development partner is Building Blocks, founded by Devean George (also of George Group North) with Reginald Barner, The Barner Group, a partner with Building Blocks.

They have the expertise, “we will still need to fundraise significantly for the capital expense so that a startup grocery could afford it,” Pilling said. “From our work, we understand that a co-op takes seven-ish years to start, building the capacity of the board, and building memberships.” A coordinator focused on building memberships brought in 50 in about four months, after years of building slowly to over 130.

The proposed store seeks to “help build community and provide diverse, healthy food choices that reflect the needs of our immediate and surrounding neighborhoods,” according to the mission statement. “The Wirth Cooperative Grocery aims to provide foods specific to our neighbors’ needs including non-traditional ethnic foods while building upon Cooperative principles and values.” Member-owned, the co-op would create jobs and economic opportunity.

Just across the river is an example, at the Eastside Food Cooperative, 26th and Central Avenues NE. Their general manager Amy Fields has advised the Wirth group and facilitated a rapid but productive self-analysis with them at the annual meeting April 22.

Eastside is celebrating its 10th year in business, now employing nearly 70 people full and part-time and boasting over 4,000 members. Eastside expects to expand with a capital campaign hinged on member loans and additional shares to leverage other financing.

At $100 apiece for lifelong memberships, the Wirth group is about half way to their goal of 400 members, thought to be the minimum for banks and other financing sources to consider the effort credible. They continue to offer installments of $25.

Board members and other volunteers promote Wirth Cooperative Grocery by tabling at community events, and recruiting through house parties; methods Eastside used early on. For more information, see www.wirthcoop.com or call 612-743-7221.