State of the Co-op - update letter

Dear Fellow Bethlehem Food Co-Op Member-Owners,

With warmer weather arriving, signs of growth and life are emerging all around us. The past year has proven to be one of significant growth and development for our Co-Op, too. You may be scratching your head right now wondering if you missed a big announcement because, while you’ve seen lots of social media posts and flyers about events and educational programs sponsored by the Co-Op at local venues, you haven’t seen much substantive news on our development.

The reality is, our board and committees have been busier than ever before working on heavy lifting components of our development, including growing our membership by over 150 households and building numerous community partnerships, since the beginning of 2017. We are almost to 500 member-owner households! Our current board is a powerhouse, comprised of Co-Op members who bring necessary skills to the table to move us through this arduous phase. In addition to all being dedicated and generous individuals, our board members offer strong backgrounds in business management, social justice, community organizing, organizational leadership, professional communications, and project management.

However, a lot of the information associated with this stage of development is extremely sensitive, and we don’t want to jeopardize, for example, the perfect location negotiation, by sharing too much information too soon. That being said, we recognize we have not been effective in communicating non-confidential information about this phase of development.  To remedy this, the board has committed to providing our members with monthly updates about our progress (in addition to publishing board meeting minutes, which will continue to be posted on our website). This letter is a lengthier recap of our achievements over the past year, but you can expect more frequent, concise updates each month going forward. We recognize that, as we approach 500 member-owner households and enter the implementation stage of our development, it is more important now than ever before that our members know and understand the work being done and trust the Co-Op’s leadership as big decisions are made.

The big questions of location and timeline have been the primary focus of the Co-Op board over the past year. We are optimistic that we will be able to publicly announce a location in coming months. Here’s what has been happening on the location search front so far:

In October 2016, we announced the formation of our real estate committee, which was comprised of six Co-Op members who brought expertise in areas related to engineering, community development, and real estate, with the goal of delivering a formal recommendation to the board on which sites to invest in a market study on. This stellar group of volunteers worked for months evaluating available properties within a defined area of interest (from the south banks of the Lehigh River north to Washington Avenue, and from the low numbered avenues along West Broad Street east to Stefko Boulevard). After evaluating nine sites, the committee fulfilled its duties by delivering a recommendation to the board in September 2017.

The board hired a market analyst with a specialty in food co-op development to conduct research and provide a report on four locations within our area of interest. Using the results from that report along with our initial feasibility study data, we worked with a consultant to run two of these locations through financial models. With the board in informal agreement about what appears to be an ideal location, we are finalizing our evaluation of the data and working to determine next steps. We had an extremely intense and successful board retreat on Memorial Day weekend with an expert from Food Co-Op Initiative which prepared, inspired, and educated us for the upcoming stages of work. We will also be participating in an in-depth training on working with our financial models in the very near future. 

At the appropriate point soon after the location is finalized, the Co-Op will launch its capital campaign. We are working on laying the groundwork for this campaign now, which include member loans, contributions, grants, and traditional financing. The Co-Op will need significant volunteer support on a number of levels (from envelope stuffing to marketing to member loan solicitation), so please let us know if you are able to help!

Our board has been in frequent communication with many cooperative enterprise mentors, consultants, and advisors as we progress through the massive process of opening a full-service, member-owned retail outlet. We have been consistently assured that our growth and development timeline is in line with national trends, which tell us that the average co-op takes 5-8 years to open from the point of incorporation (which was 2013 for us). We have also been cautioned to avoid pressure to just “get it done.” We are fortunate to be equipped with many tools and resources to help us make sure we have completed due diligence on all fronts to ensure a successful business in the highly competitive and evolving grocery and natural foods sector.

Another question we love to hear is, “How can I help?” This is a key question to ask yourself, as the store cannot be community owned without the community taking active ownership! Here are some ideas:

  • Volunteer on a committee:
    • Communications: PR, marketing, graphic design, writing, photography, web design or development
    • Finance: systems development, capital campaign design and/or support, pro forma analysis, business planning
    • Member Outreach: event planning, business networking, team building, volunteer recruitment/management
  • Grow our membership:
    • If you haven’t already, join the co-op (!
      Email if you are in need of a scholarship.
    • Recruit new members (a handy yard sign can help)
  • Serve on the board (members only):
    • Current open seat: We are seeking a board member with financial acumen and experience to assist
      us in launching our capital campaign and/or other fundraising. Details are available on our website.
    • General elections: Interested members are encouraged to run for a seat on the board. Elections are held at our annual membership meeting in October. Look for details in July!
  • Support the Co-Op financially:
    • Make a financial contribution
    • Email us to be notified when our Member Loan Campaign launches
    • Sponsor an event or advertisement
    • Contribute supplies (stamps, envelopes, tabletop banner, promotional giveaways, etc.)

I sincerely hope this update gives you a clearer picture of where the Bethlehem Food Co-Op stands in our development. Our board meetings are on the third Monday of each month at 6:30 p.m.  in Moravian College’s Bahnson Center. The meetings are open to the public, and we encourage community members to come observe and ask questions. Also, please feel free to contact us at with any comments or questions.

We look forward to another year of great progress ahead!

In Cooperation,

Colleen Marsh
Board Chair
Bethlehem Food Co-Op

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commented 2018-07-10 10:02:28 -0400 · Flag
Thank you for the update!!