Who needs Walgreens? After pharmacy replaces grocery, nabe plans its own co-op

Who needs Walgreens? After pharmacy replaces grocery, nabe plans its own co-op
Photo by Bess Adler

Call it co-op-eration.

A group of Kensington and Windsor Terrace foodies are trying to open a Park Slope-style food co-op in their neighborhood after the loss of a local supermarket — and they’re even getting guidance from the leaders of the legendary Park Slope Food Co-op themselves.

“They were extraordinarily helpful in telling us what to avoid and how to proceed,” said Jack O’Connell, who has spearheaded the efforts with about 12 other Windsor Terriers and Kensingtonians. “They are committed to working with us if and when we get the co-op rolling, and we will rely on their much-appreciated skill and knowledge.”

The upstart group has been meeting since July, said O’Connell, and the idea for a food co-op arose after a popular Windsor Terrace Key Food shut down and the pharmacy chain Walgreens announced it would move into the grocery store’s Prospect Avenue space despite outcry from residents who say they value fresh produce over prescriptions.

Organizers hope their co-op plan will appeal to residents concerned about a lack of foodstuffs in the neighborhood, but they admit the challenge will be attracting the broad support required to start a community-run grocery store.

“We need 300–400 members to commit time and resources to get a critical mass of people to do this,” said O’Connell, who says he has received about 100 letters of support from community members so far. “You need people who say, ‘I’m in and I’m working a certain amount of hours each month.’ ”

The group is hosting a meeting on Oct. 23 at the Knights of Columbus Hall in Windsor Terrace, and planners expect a large turnout.

Still, the Park Slope Food Co-op’s leadership — which gives advice and support to many fledgling co-ops around the country due to its unofficial status as the godfather of grocery collectives — cautions that it is an arduous journey to start a new co-op.

“It’s very difficult to do,” said Ann Herpel, the general coordinator of the members-only store, who pointed out that the Greene Hill Food Co-op in Clinton Hill took more than two years of organizing to come to fruition. “You have to find out if the community even wants this and you have to have a lot of ways to keep people interested and wanting to put energy and time into it.”

Nearby Ditmas Park has its own co-op — the Flatbush Food Co-op — which unlike the Park Slope Food Co-op, allows non-members to shop, but at slightly higher prices.

O’Connell said that were in the early stage of organizing support for a co-op and were not wedded to any specific model of what it would look like.

“This is a big, enormous task,” said O’Connell. “Co-ops are highly democratic and you can never predict what a couple hundred people will say months from now.”

Windsor Terrace and Kensington food co-op meeting at the Knights of Columbus Hall [1511 10th Ave. between 16th Street and Prospect Park Southwest in Windsor Terrace] Oct. 23 at 7 pm.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at [email protected] or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.