Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly described who could shop at the future grocery store funded by the co-op. Anyone will be able to shop there, regardless of whether they own a share. While the co-op will focus on locally sourced products, not every product will be from local producers. The story also incorrectly described the capital campaign, which is to raise funds for the construction and operation of the store. The story has been updated to correct these errors.
Hillsboro's new food co-op is in the home stretch of drumming up membership, meaning the organization is now preparing to move on with site selection for a storefront.
Organizers of the Hillsboro Food Co-op say they have about 200 more ownership shares to sell before they hit 1,000. At that point, they say, they'll have enough shares sold to start the long process of buying a site on which to build a proper store.
The purpose of a co-op is to have a local store that sells locally sourced produce and other products. Rather than having the store run by a privately owned company, a co-op is collectively owned by hundreds or thousands of individual shareholders and suppliers.
While big-box stores and novelty shops tend to buy from the largest suppliers, co-ops can act as a network for smaller farms to band together and remain competitive.
The organizers touted the community benefits of this kind of model.
"The good thing about a co-op is that you don't need to rely on large farms to get all your asparagus, for example," said Jennifer Hardacker, the chair of the outreach committee. "We can join with a lot of smaller farmers to provide that produce … whereas big corporations have a business model that usually requires more of those bigger supply lines."
Health is another selling point. Co-op backers say locally sourced produce is often healthier for shoppers than goods that sit in packaging for weeks on shipping routes.
Plus, those economic gains to suppliers stay in the community, rather than feeding into out-of-state corporate profits.
"It's good for the local producers and farmers, but you're (also) not shipping things around the world to get the products. … That keeps the profits back in the community," said Tim Farrell, who's on the co-op's business planning committee.
Shares go for $200 a pop, so the 1,000-member mark ought to give the co-op plenty of seed money to start hiring staff and work out its logistics. But it will still take a much larger fundraising campaign to buy land and build a store on it.
Anyone will be able to shop at the store, regardless of whether they own a share.
"Once we lock in on a site, it's still going to take probably 18 (to) 24 months before we have a store open," Farrell said. "And then another key element that we're right on the cusp of ... is to staff up a capital campaign."
He explained, "The initial buy-in by members is really to build that owner base, but there's still significant capital needed to establish the grocery store itself."
The co-op had its sights set on the Block 67 development in the heart of Hillsboro, but Farrell said that the developer they were working with didn't end up getting the project bid.
Instead, that city-owned group of blocks, right next to downtown, will instead be developed by Rembold and Related Northwest into a plaza that includes apartments and a large Fresh Foods grocery store branch.
The co-op was first registered in Oregon back in 2013. While the organizers say that it's typical for it to take the better part of a decade to get enough individual shares sold, they acknowledge that this stage of the co-op's creation is about reassuring the owners who started on the ground floor.
"We're trying to energize the existing owner-members," Hardacker said. "Some of them have been members for five or six years, and they may be losing a bit of hope, so we want to assure them that this is still happening and we are hard at work."
Once a site is selected, Farrell says the goal is to create a full-service grocery store. Shoppers may not get every brand under the sun, like at a typical grocery store, but the co-op is nevertheless intended to be a place for one-stop shopping, where you can get all that you need on a typical grocery run.
Individuals are restricted to purchasing just one share, though multiple members of the same household could each own a $200 share.
Shareholders will all have an equal say in the co-op's operations, according to organizers. While running a full-service store will require a larger effort to seek loans and other funding sources, Farrell says they are working out the business model to keep the co-op communally owned.
"As we get into our capital campaign, we'll have preferred shares that will be a different category, but the initial $200 buy-in is really to establish the organization itself, so that everyone has equal say in the food co-op," he said.
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