What makes a user-owned grocery store sustainable?

1/23/2023 6:00:00 AM

Common Ground Food Co-Operative logoAcademic mentor: Manabu Nakamura

Community partner: Common Ground Food Co-Operative

Project description: 
Although food is indispensable to everyone, significant parts of the US population are at risk of food/nutrition insecurity. Dominance of large retailers and online stores largely wiped out locally owned stores including grocery stores, resulting in loss of control over location and merchandise items of grocery stores and decreased local jobs, in particular in low-income areas. To address these issues, our team (Manabu Nakamura, Paul McNamara and Bobby Smith) is exploring the feasibility of creating a co-op type grocery store in a low-income area in north Champaign. As the first step of the project development, this proposal aims to learn sustainable operation of Common Ground Food Co-op (CGFC), Urbana, IL, a user-owned grocery store in our community. CGFC has been in operation since the 1970s. Although the core customers are health-conscious and prefer organic produce, and not necessarily low-income, there is a sense of pride among members of contributing to the good for the community. Also, even though the store is much smaller than a typical supermarket, CGFC provides employment opportunities to about 70 people (not relying on volunteers). Thus, the objective of this project is to learn essential features to sustainably operate co-op type grocery stores in this area.

Role of the Community-Academic Scholar:
The Community-Academic Scholar will visit CGFC 2-3 times a week to shadow store managers and store workers to know daily operations. Then, the scholar will interview/survey managers, board members, store workers and customers to find out requisites for successful operation of a user-owned grocery store. Finally, the scholar will prepare a report that will serve as a foundation for developing a feasible plan to create a coop-style grocery store in a low-income area.