Hours before the Seward Co-op’s new Friendship Store opened on Oct. 7, while workers laid out seafood and took inventory, a continuous stream of customers walked up and tried the locked doors.
“People are ready,” said LaDonna Sanders-Redmond, the co-op’s diversity and community engagement manager.
Five-hundred people joined as co-op owners within the first week of operation.
The Friendship Store at 317 E. 38th St. is smaller than the original Seward Co-op on Franklin, but it’s designed to hold nearly all the same products, with a percentage devoted to local preferences. Sanders-Redmond said neighborhood requests included cornmeal, hot sauces, okra, teff flour and wellness products tailored for African Americans.
Diversity in hiring became a major issue for some neighbors who pushed the co-op to hire 70 percent people of color.
“Our community is majority Black and Latino, two groups who are disproportionately impacted by employment discrimination in Minneapolis,” states a petition signed by more than 1,000 people.
The store ended up hiring 61 percent people of color, Sanders-Redmond said, with 50 percent living within a mile of the store.
When the second Seward Co-op location was announced, staff said they hoped to relieve congestion at the Franklin store and provide healthy food to an underserved community. Staff said the Central and Bryant neighborhoods are considered a “food desert,” meaning most residents don’t have easy access to a supermarket or other sources of healthy food.
The store is located on the former site of Greater Friendship Baptist Church, and the new building’s color is designed to emulate some of the brickwork across the street. Muralists are commissioned to decorate interior walls.
“They wanted a store that blended in to the community,” Sanders-Redmond said.
The store includes a cafe seating area, classes on topics like healthy East African cooking, a grab-and-go section and a hot bar with the menu posted online each day. Forty percent of products are produced in Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin or the Dakotas.
Minnesota holds more co-ops than any other state, and the Friendship Store is opening at a time when Minneapolis-area co-ops continue to grow.
— Eastside Food Co-op in Northeast Minneapolis is in the midst of a major expansion that will more than double the size of its sales floor.
— The Wedge Community Co-op at 22nd & Lyndale is designing a remodel that will add indoor seating and improve the store’s flow. (The store will remain open during construction that starts after the holidays.)
— The Wedge Table, a mini-market spinoff, opened at 24th & Nicollet in early 2015 and features a patio, small plates, a happy hour, free weekly meditations and yoga classes.
— Lakewinds Food Co-op opened in 2014 at 64th & Lyndale with produce that’s 90 percent organic.
— Seward Co-op also opened its new Creamery Neighborhood Café at 26th & Franklin in August, selling coffee, beer, masa waffles, kohlrabi fritters and lamb reuben sandwiches. The creamery supplies product for the Friendship Store and provides in-house bakery and sausage production.
In the months leading up to opening day, the Friendship Store became the focus for worries about gentrification. A neighborhood petition asks for more diversity in hiring and bigger need-based discounts for shoppers. The petition also seeks community development support in the form of donations for affordable housing, sourcing from people of color in South Minneapolis, and grants and loans for neighborhood producers.
Tom Vogel, the co-op’s marketing manager, said the parties are now discussing a “mutual benefits agreement” in which the co-op and neighborhood groups would work together to benefit the community.
Maggie Ewing, a co-op member involved in the issue, said she’s glad the groups are negotiating, but said she wants any agreement to be legally binding on the co-op.
Vogel said the co-op has already addressed many of the issues raised by the neighborhood. The co-op continues working to increase diversity in its workforce, and vested co-op employees earn $15 an hour when benefits and insurance are factored in.
“The important thing now is to continue working with the neighborhood,” Vogel said.
Pricing at the Friendship Store is similar to the flagship store, and some neighbors have raised concerns about the affordability of food sold at the co-op.
“It would be unaffordable to nearly half of the residents,” states the petition. “These neighborhoods are home to low-income families facing substantial poverty and high unemployment. We are in need of an affordable supermarket.”
Inexpensive food pricing found in many other grocery stores is based on low pay for producers and workers, Sanders-Redmond said.
“We have not been told what the impact of that cheap food is,” she said. “What you pay for is not just your product, it’s someone else’s lifestyle.”
One way to find cost savings at the store is through buying in bulk, she said. Shoppers are encouraged to bring their own containers.
“In the food industry, what you pay a lot for is packaging,” Sanders-Redmond said.
Bulk goods range from coffee and honey to nut butter, coconut flour, soy sauce, spices and dish soap.
“It can be a lot more economical when you’re buying dried rice, grains and peas,” said Abby Rogosheske, the co-op’s education and outreach coordinator.
A discount rack sells bruised produce or goods with scratched packaging. The co-op’s “Nourish” program gives need-based discounts on memberships and everyday shopping. Stacks of recipe cards offer ideas to feed a family of four for $15 or less, such as mushroom polenta bowls or sweet potato and spinach curry. The store also teaches classes on how to shop the co-op.
“[We teach] how you can help balance shopping with values and shopping with a budget,” said Rogosheske.
Daily store hours are 8 a.m.-10 p.m.
Photos by William Hoben