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Home in sight for Dorchester Food Co-op

Lack of store stands in way of vision

Jule Pattison-Gordon
Home in sight for Dorchester Food Co-op
Architect’s rendering of Viet-Aid development at 191-195 Bowdoin Street. (Photo: Image: Courtesy of Utile, Inc., www.utiledesign.com)

With plans forming for a brick-and-mortar location in the Bowdoin-Geneva neighborhood, The Dorchester Community Food Co-op is close to becoming fully fledged. A grocery store presence out of which to sell a broad menu of healthy food was always the goal of the Co-op’s founder, but difficulty attaining space limited operations thus far to seasonal pop-up programming. This has included a winter farmers’ market in Codman Square, nutrition and recipe education events held on August Fridays in Bowdoin-Geneva, and the like, according to Darnell Adams, the Co-op’s project manager.

“[If we get the retail space] we come from being an idea that was started by community members … to an actual viable bricks-and-mortar store. It’s what we were always focused on and trying to get to,” Adams told the Banner. “This changes it from an idea and a project to a living, breathing store.”

The Dorchester Food Co-op has been named preferred tenant for retail space at 191-195 Bowdoin Street, in a development by the Vietnamese American Initiative for Development, Inc. (Viet-Aid). The project, recently approved by the Boston Planning and Development Agency, also will feature 41 affordable residential units, with construction slated to begin in 2018. The Co-op would receive a 6,057-square-foot space.

At present, the Co-op has a nine-person board and 556 owner-members, who each pay a one-time cost of $100 to join and gain one share, Adams said. To reduce barriers to membership, the Co-op allows permissive payment schedules, with some members paying in $25 installments.

Ownership of a share grants the member one vote in businesses decisions such as board member elections and bylaws. To maintain equal say, no member can attain more than one share or vote, Adams said. While members receive a dividend based on profits, Adams is the sole staff member.

Mission and history

The Co-op was officially incorporated in 2012, the product of meetings among community members from several neighborhoods who were interested in increasing access to more food choices and healthy options, Adams said. That year, the Co-op launched the Codman Square winter farmers’ market (it has since handed off operations to the local neighborhood association and health center) and Bowdoin-Geneva Fresh Friday events in August, featuring local food and nutrition advice.

In 2013, the Co-op nearly received space at the same location — 191 Bowdoin Street — under then-developer Dorchester Bay Economic Development Corporation. Ultimately those plans fell through.

What’s in a store?

To reach its full envisioned impact, the Co-op needs a store, Adams said, where they would sell local food to the extent possible. Where certain food products are not available for a good price in immediate vicinities, the store will look increasingly further out to purchase, and will not avoid importing goods such as bananas that do not survive in New England climates, she said.

“We do have a mission to use as many local providers as possible,” Adams said.

Ultimately, purchasing would be up to the general manager, who will have to be hired along with an estimated 15-person staff to run the store.

Including pre-development costs, getting a store up and running will cost about $2 million, Adams said, with $1.85 million of that yet to be raised. She said the Co-op will seek grant funding, membership investment and low-interest loans.

Speaking to the Banner in February, Davida Andelman, a longtime Bowdoin-Geneva resident who has been involved in the Co-op since its creation, said she envisioned the Co-op also as a generator of living-wage local jobs. She added that she believed it would generate further commercial activity without being in direct competition with existing small grocery stores and bodegas.

“Some folks are feeling that a food co-op is really not a particularly good use for the commercial piece [of the development] and some of the thought is, we have a number of small grocery stores,” Andelman said at the time. “But the Food Co-op has never looked at trying to put other grocery-type uses out of business. The Food Co-op looks at itself as being an enhancer in the commercial district.”

It is still early in the process, Adams warned, with conversations needed to solidify details and zoning yet to be decided. Both the Co-op and developer Viet-Aid have yet to secure funding, she said.