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Supporters Rush to Save the Near East Side Co-op

Jesse Bethea Jesse Bethea Supporters Rush to Save the Near East Side Co-opPhoto by Walker Evans.
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The Near East Side Cooperative Market is safe for now.

Earlier this week, the community-owned grocery store at 1117 Oak Street sounded the alarm that “based on current predictions, we cannot continue to operate past June 8th.” Luckily, supporters from the Near East Side community and beyond responded quickly to help out the store, and its operators now believe it should be able to continue past the June 8th deadline.

According to co-op board member Maggie Livisay, daily phone banking, volunteers and donations from community supporters made the difference. The market will be able to expand its business hours starting on Monday, operating from 11 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

The Near East Side Co-op began as a community produce buying club and first opened as a market 13 months ago. Today, the market provides Near East Side residents with access to food from local farms and businesses, including Manchester Hill, Snowville Creamery, Block’s Bagels, Upper Cup Coffee and MKM Family Farms, which provides the market’s meat and eggs.

“Our eggs are amazing,” said Monique McCrystal, a member of the co-op board.

In the first 13 months of operation, things have not always gone so smoothly for the market.

“Over the last year we’ve had a lot of successes and challenges in our operations model,” said Livisay.

The situation looked especially bad in January, when the market was forced to cut staff time and management hours. In March, Katy Macke was brought in as the market’s manager and sales have greatly improved in the last few weeks, although the deficits from before still linger.

Despite the challenges, the co-op has managed to expand and sell memberships, which pay to keep the lights on, order product for the shelves and fund community education on the benefits of organic, locally grown food.

“Our neighborhood was once considered a food desert,” said McCrystal. Residents of the Near East Side would have to ride the bus some distance to find healthy, organic food before the establishment of the co-op.

“People in our neighborhood don’t have access to that food without us here,” said McCrystal.

Now the co-op has 170 member households, with more than 240 individual members. In order to alleviate some of the market’s financial troubles, co-op members offered to hold fundraisers and call friends asking for small donations. Supporters renewed their memberships early and some volunteered to work at the market for free in order to expand business hours.

“Food is something that brings everyone together,” said McCrystal.

The co-op will be holding a rent party tonight from 5pm to 9pm. Supporters are asked to attend the outdoor celebration and “give what you can.” In addition, donations to the co-op can be made over the phone at 614-252-7799 and those who have questions or want to get involved can email [email protected] for more information.

For more information, visit www.neareastsidecoop.org.

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