By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
As Delridge grows and changes, one thing has remained the same: Its lack of a grocery store.
What is now the Delridge Grocery Cooperative has been working on that for years. And its board members were heartened to see the latest sign of interest – a full room at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center for the co-op’s “town hall” this past Wednesday.
As noted in our preview published two nights earlier, the centerpiece of the meeting was the unveiling of the Delridge Grocery Co-op “market study,” professionally conducted research that had to be done before they apply again for the loan that’s needed to get the store open in its long-reserved space at 5444 Delridge Way SW.
There to hear about it, and ask questions, was a roomful of people from longtime co-op members to former board members to current board members, even newly interested neighbors saying they “just want to help.”
And it will take all that help, and more, to make the dream of a store finish coming true. “When we cut the ribbon, I’m riding in on a white horse,” joked Delridge Grocery board president Andrea Wilmot.
Here’s what was reported, asked, and answered during the hour-plus-long meeting:
MARKET STUDY: Wilmot said the co-op now has 470 members and “we’re still striving for more.” They need at least 600 members to open, so are asking members “tell your friends,” talk to new arrivals, etc. (You can join via the DGC website.)
She also recapped that they’d done their own feasibility study but that a lender wanted to see one done professionally. Board vice president Ranette Iding made sure everyone knew they’ve hired Parie Hines of LD Arch Design (WSB sponsor), who lives and works in Delridge, as their architect for store design, as they enter the city permit process.
Wilmot said they’ll be looking for a general manager and need support from people who “know how to run a grocery store.”
Board member Jason Miller explained the grant-funded study’s backstory. It was done by G2G Research Group, which works with co-ops and is a co-op itself. He circulated paper copies, and said that anyone’s welcome to e-mail to ask for an electronic copy (email@example.com). The rep visited for a week in late July, met with Delridge Grocery’s planning group, evaluated the site as well as the store’s competitors, and “retail synergy” in the area.
The area for competition purposes is considered to be “most of West Seattle, down into White Center,” and it’s considered “relatively strong.” Many stores carry natural-food items, even Costco, which is considered competition, though regular grocery stores such as Safeway are not – stores with delineated natural-food areas are what the study firm sees as competition.
What is seen as the co-op’s trade area (85,900 people, most of West Seattle) has many people with college education and above-average income, two groups that are considered likely to support co-ops.
Other pluses: Serving a food desert; synergy with the food-truck hub.
The factors that are challenges for the site include limited parking in the area, limited size (the space is 1,500 sf), and limited space for signage, as well as trees “that block the visibility until you’re basically at the store,” as Miller put it.
The other sites evaluated were hypothetical, with “no available real estate,” but they needed alternatives for evaluation just the same. If space and funding were available, the study group saw potential in the Delridge/Andover and Delridge/Orchard business nodes.
Annual sales forecasts were higher than what the co-op’s own study had found years ago – more than $1 million.
As discussed during our recent interview with board members, a grab-and-go/deli-food section would be a major differentiating factor.
The co-op is continuing to recruit new members, they’re expecting the Financial Feasibility Study consultant to visit in September/October; they’re seeking member loans; a large local corporation (they’re not identifying it) is considering a “potential donation,” and they’re excited about that; they’re appreciative of help from various agencies and foundations.
That led to the Q&A section.
Did the market study consider grocery-delivery services, which are experiencing a growth spurt, to say the least? Board members said that they made that point to their consultant but it wasn’t in his purview.
What about the dichotomy between making money and serving low-income people? Wilmot’s reply: “We still stand by supplying healthy affordable organic food to the neighborhood,” and accepting WIC, SNAP, and other programs so they can serve everyone. They expect that their inventory would include items that can be offered at even lower prices – “ugly fruit, seconds,” etc.
Iding said they had received a Seattle Foundation Neighbor to Neighbor grant “to talk about equity in the area, to be sure the co-op is a leader in that in the community.”
Another questioner mentioned the Super 24 parking lot vegetable stand a few years back – what kind of success did it experience? Wilmot said the reason DG isn’t doing a farm stand this year is because “we are focused on getting the store open,.” She added that it “wasn’t a moneymaker” but it was a demonstration stand to show some of the items that they might sell – “fava beans, etc.” The stand also was a way to increase membership.
Is there any chance to expand the space available at the 5444 Delridge Way SW location they currently have lined up? The answer is basically no. And it was reiterated, the space is low-cost, and if that wasn’t where they were going, they would have to raise even more money – about a third more.
Next question – what’s the gap between what it would cost to open and what you have in the bank right now? Wilmot said they don’t have an exact amount; other board members said some of the needed money is covered by $175,000 in grants, plus an amount forgiven by building owner DESC “that goes toward the build-out” among other things. But yes, overall, they still need money, and that’s why they will be applying for a loan.
One attendee who identified himself as a small-business operator said that in a small space, the biggest factor toward success would be volume – and they will have challenges given the access and visibility issues. Creativity could overcome that.
Iding said involvement of more people with ideas – like that attendee – would be appreciated, to help them come up with those creative concepts. For example – maybe they could have a pickup service, to compete with the aforementioned delivery boom in the grocery business. She said that partnership with other organizations is also a concept they’d love to be “fleshing out.”
Pickup could be helpful because a major challenge of the space’s parkinglessness is that even if people parked across the street, it’s not a safe space for crossing, especially with bags of groceries. Landlord DESC has complained to the city about that issue, the board members noted, as it affects the residents of their building, too.
Another attendee pointed out that many people in the neighborhood don’t have cars and it’s important to “keep an open mind about a pickup service” – maybe it could be done via a spot at Youngstown, which is on the 120 and 50 bus lines. Wilmot said they’re pointing out to Metro regarding the future conversion of the 120 to RapidRide H Line that there needs to be a stop near the future store.
Next question, what about selling food that’s culturally relevant to as many Delridge residents as possible – has that been factored in?
Miller replied that “the board has talked about that a lot” – but it didn’t factor into the market study. Another board member elaborated on the potential food-truck-hub synergy – that the trucks making food in the commercial kitchens in the morning could make a certain amount of items for the co-op, “and suddenly we’re getting food-truck food” that otherwise is only being served at South Lake Union, for example. He identified himself as a former Whole Foods Market employee, saying that is a major category for those stores – “fewer people are cooking at home so selling prepared foods is attractive.”
Miller added that part of the city grant for the feasibility study is specifically designed to pay for translators and interpreters so they can get a variety of input about “what sort of food should be in the store”; they hope to find out more from neighborhood residents when that rolls around in September/October.
Was the market study a “check-the-box thing” for the loan process? someone else asked.
They have to reapply, Wilmot explained. Iding added that the market-study information also will be used to update the business plan.
Another attendee said this will be an amazing opportunity for healthy food to be available for sale and asked again regarding the number of members.
How best to help? “Come to the meetings,” board members repeated. And donate.
The same attendee asked if the board was aware of Black and Tan Hall, a cooperative just opened in Columbia City, and which offered people the chance to work toward membership, if money is an obstacle.
After about an hour, the meeting wrapped, and it was reiterated that:
-You can e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org with questions any time.
-All are welcome at the next Delridge Grocery board meeting (6:30 pm September 13th – e-mail to confirm location).