It is with heavy hearts that we are announcing the closure of our Downtown Store. While we had originally planned to remain in operation through January, several equipment malfunctions wiped out our refrigerated items in the past two weeks and then on Tuesday, mother nature gave the final blow in the form of a wind storm that caused a power outage which resulted in a loss of our frozen items.
Still, even with replacement of those goods, the ongoing construction on 5th street (our would-be main entrance) and other factors made it impossible to operate without significant support. We have been lucky to have had so many great community partners who have helped us along this far, but with construction continuing until at least the summer, we were unable to find a path forward that was financially viable for the Co-op or our supporters.
Opening Downtown was a huge undertaking and something we really believed in as a community owned organization. We knew it would be a challenge and would have to modify how we operated and over two years we changed a lot!
Some things went great:
- We worked on buying contracts for conventional goods,
- We launched low income shopping and membership programs,
- We continually evaluated and changed our product selection and participated in a ton of fun Downtown events.
And some things were not so great:
- We tried our hand at online shopping, but we didn’t have the right platform or infrastructure to really keep it updated and accurate, or the organizational capacity to really dig in like we wanted
- We tried a lot of different discount structures and promotions, some of which were kind of clunky and confusing
- We had to keep trying to find ways to reduce expenses, which made it more and more difficult to run the store while also getting all the buying/planning/cleaning/stocking done
We are closing with a sense of appreciation and gratitude to have had the opportunity to try. We have met so many amazing people, partnered with so many cherished local businesses, and learned a lot about how we can better serve our community.
This feels deeply personal to us; when we talk about our community partners, we are referring to many meetings with people who became friends all working for the same vision. When we say we will miss our neighbors, we are talking about specific people who we have done business with or who came in to shop with us. When we say we will miss the Downtown community, we are thinking of specific people who came in and spent their money and time with us, many of whom were on a first name basis with the Downtown team. Yet for how personal this all feels, it’s really a story about food security that is playing out in cities like ours all over the country. It’s a story of the necessity of investment from public as well as private entities to not only ensure that markets can operate in challenging areas, but that they can thrive. First we saw large grocery chains moving out of our communities, and now we are seeing drug stores do the same. We will have to work together to secure these important resources, with an understanding that other retailers left because of how challenging it is to even break-even financially, let alone make a profit that can be reinvested.
What’s next for the Co-op
The 26th street store and surrounding community have had a ton of changes lately too! So we are going to fortify and strengthen the existing Co-op so that we can continue to be a resource to this community well into the future. We have some overdue facility upgrades we’re excited to take care of, and some eco initiatives that got overshadowed by the significant organizational capacity required to operate Downtown.
While we are sad for our time to come to an end at 34 North Park Row, we are thankful to everyone who helped us along the way. Thank you to our Board of Directors and all the extra time they have put into understanding this project to make the best decisions for the Co-op. Thank you to the Downtown team; Vivian, Alayna, Ben, Karly and Robert for staying impossibly cool through a million different obstacles. Thank you to the admin team and 26th street for covering Downtown shifts, working on projects and generally keeping things so smooth at the main store that we could put more energy Downtown. Thank you to our community partners and the many businesses we have made connections with. Thank you to our regulars and friends.
We will miss you, Downtown!
Board President's Statement:
When we made the decision to open a second store, in the Flagship City Market in downtown Erie, it was unlike anything the co-op had ever attempted before. In a way, it was scary - despite all of the research that had been completed, all of the data that had been collected, and all of the experts that had been consulted, we didn’t really know what we were getting into. But even moreso, it was exciting - exciting that we, the Erie Food Co-op, could be a good partner in the Erie community by bringing fresh food to an area that needed it. And we were guided by the faith that we were making the right decision for the co-op, for our members, and for the community.
Despite the announced closing of the Flagship City Market, I still feel as though we made the right decision two-plus years ago. And while we are disappointed that we will no longer have a physical presence downtown, we are nonetheless proud of our time there. Having been a source of food in downtown Erie for the past two years truly means a lot to everyone involved.
With all of that said, the big picture doesn’t change with this news. The co-op continues to be in a strong position - in terms of membership and leadership, operationally and financially. We’ll continue to work diligently and conscientiously toward our ends and to be a good presence in Erie - just from 26th St. for now!
President, Board of Directors
Erie Food Co-op