Co-op loan drive short $100,000; deadline extended

The Linden Hills Co-op needs $1.5 million in member loans to help pay for a move to the west side of the neighborhood

LINDEN HILLS — The Linden Hills Co-op arrived at its Jan. 31 loan-drive deadline about $100,000 short of the $1.5 million needed to help pay for a move from 43rd & Upton to the former Almsted’s Sunnyside Market site near 44th Street and France Avenue.

That was close enough for Bob Olson, who owns the new site, to grant an extension for the drive and for the co-op to move forward with its plans, said spokeswoman Jeanne Lakso.

“We’ll continue to collect loan agreements for at least the next two weeks and we’re fully confident we’re going to meet if not exceed our goal,” Lakso said during a Feb. 1 interview.

At that time, the co-op had $1.3 million in contracted loans from more than 100 members and roughly $100,000 in verbal commitments, she said. The loans will help cover $3.5 million in moving expenses and renovation costs.

The new building is 50 percent larger than the existing co-op. Co-op leaders said the extra space would help the member-owned grocery store meet the needs of its rapidly growing membership base, which has jumped from 1,700 to more than 5,200 since 1996. At least 100 new members have joined since the start of the loan drive a couple months ago.

The co-op’s board of directors had been contemplating a move for five years, but decided to act late last fall when the former Almsted’s building, slated to become a CVS/Pharmacy until recently, became available for lease with an option to buy. Unable to negotiate a lease at the current site that could keep the co-op sustainable and unable to buy or expand the current property, the board chose the new space.

The loan drive was launched almost immediately after the news was announced to members in October and though many members resisted the change and criticized the board for not engaging them early in the process, loans quickly started pouring in.

With the funding goal now within reach, the co-op is moving ahead with architects and contractors to nail down plans and costs. Building renovation is expected to begin within the next six weeks and the new site is scheduled to be open in the fall. The co-op will be closed for two to three days while the final transition is made.

A farewell ceremony for the existing location, something several co-op members have requested, is also planned. The co-op has been at various locations in the 43rd & Upton node since opening in 1976.

Though the new store will be less than a mile west, the move is still hard for some members to stomach. Many are worried about what will take its place and how surrounding businesses in the heart of Linden Hills will be affected.

Several community members initially against the move organized a community meeting to discuss the situation last month. More than 50 people attended, including co-op board members and management. Emotions ranged from tearful grief to animated excitement.

“Change is hard. I think that sometimes not changing is harder. Doing less is harder…” said co-op member Janet Collins at the meeting. “Staying in that location might be harder, but would we have to board up the co-op? I think there are probably other ways to do it.”

Co-op member and Linden Hills Neighborhood Council (LHiNC) member Keiko Veasey said she was sad to see the co-op leaving 43rd & Upton, but glad to keep it in the neighborhood. She said the co-op would be a better fit for the Almsted’s site than a CVS and the vacancy the store leaves should be seen as an opportunity.

“We can have our cake and eat it too,” she said. “We can still have the co-op and something new is going to come to the neighborhood as well.”

Co-op member Eric Utne, a lead organizer of the January discussion who opposed the co-op move in an open letter to area residents, said at the meeting he had changed his attitude toward the situation. Though he still objected to the board’s lack of transparency, he was considering making a loan.  

“I want this co-op to succeed in whatever location it’s in,” he said. “The co-op is very important to me. The last thing I want to do is compromise its ability to be viable.”

Lakso, who also attended the meeting, said dissension was expected when the move was announced and the discussion served as an opportunity to hear and respond to those voices. But as loans continue to trickle in, she said there’s little doubt that the co-op is moving.

“It’s just been a really amazing two and a half months and we couldn’t have done it without the support of the community that we’ve had,” she said.

Reach Jake Weyer at 436-4367 or jweyer@mnpubs.com.