The Durham Co-op Market is just a brick and steel shell at 1111 W. Chapel Hill St. now.
But come January, it’s going to be “a 10,000-square-foot community-owned, full-service grocery store.”
So says market manager Leila Wolfram, who went to the InterNeighborhood Council last week to spread the word.
Her words included an explanation for the name change: Since they began organizing in 2007, the founders had been calling it the “Durham Central Market,” because they planned to locate it in the Central Park district downtown.
That didn’t work out, and the market found a home instead at Self-Help’s Kent Corner development, so “central” was a little out of place.
The name change was made in June and, Wolfram said, “We saw it as a great opportunity to emphasize our co-op roots.”
That led Philip Azar from Trinity Park to note that the “Durham Co-op Market” is less than a block from the former location of the Durham Food Co-op, which closed in 2008 after 37 years in business.
“How can you assure customers that your focus also will be on the customer experience and a commitment to a sustainable business?” Azar asked.
“My goal is to build a store that is the store you want to shop at, not just because you believe in co-ops,” Wolfram said. “But because it’s the greatest store in Durham.”
Wolfram, who ran a co-op in Burlington before taking the Durham job this summer, is the market’s first employee. And besides promoting the market to the INC delegates, she asked them to spread word in their neighborhoods that she’s looking for help, paid and otherwise.
“I’ve just have initiated the process of hiring the other 27 employees I will need to run the store,” she said. “We have a job range for a huge range of people.” Initial openings are posted at the market’s website, durham.coop. At the same site, there’s a call for volunteers to do such tasks as testing recipes and building tabletops for the cafe.
At 10,000 square feet, the Co-op Market is considerably smaller than the typical commercial supermarket, such as the 53,000-square foot Harris Teeter that opened last year on Ninth Street.
On the other hand, it’s considerably larger than the 3,900-square foot Food Co-op, and will have some amenities that store lacked: such as a deli with “made-to-order sandwiches, rotisserie chickens, hot coffee, espresso and an eat-in cafe and a nice little outdoor area,” Wolfram said.
“It will be specializing in local, organic and natural foods in that order of priority,” Wolfram said. “And then we will fill in with a full spectrum of other national products. ... full produce, fresh dairy, fresh meat ... wine and beer.”
The Co-op Market has about 1,400 shareholders, most from Durham, who get to vote on who sits on the board of directors and get special discounts from time to time. (Shares are still for sale: see the website.) Shopping, though, is open to the general public.
Membership in a national co-op association that buys grocery products in bulk should help keep prices down, and Wolfram said there will be regular sales; still, “As an independent store and as a natural and organic store, you don’t tend to be the cheapest store in town.”
And, she said, the fact of being a locally owned co-op is itself a pricing factor.
“No one is making money off of this co-op,” she said. “There are no incentives to maximize our profits. Our incentive is to maximize our benefit to our community.”