There was a buzz in the air at last night’s public information meeting on a new grocery store planned for downtown New Haven.
About 100 people attended to the New Haven Hall of Records yesterday evening to learn about Elm City Market, a co-operative grocery store developed by Becker + Becker Associates that’s expected to open on the first floor of the new 360 State St.highrise by early 2011. 360 State developer and Becker + Becker President Bruce Becker SOM ’85 ARC ‘85presented the project at the meeting,and said the co-op will be established with a $7 million investment from a private pension fund and outside investors including Becker + Becker.
Since the Whalley Avenue Shaw’s store closed last March, New Haven residents have been turning to more expensive corner stores in their neighborhoods for their basic food needs. Developers of Elm City Market as well as those who attended the meeting say they hope this store will fill this hole that Shaw’s left.
The presentation was followed by a question and answer period withAssociate Vice President for New Haven and State Affairs Michael Morand ’87 DIV ’93, project coordinator Josh Brau SOM ’12 FES ’12 and Becker.
The co-op will be run by a board of directors who will be chosen by a set of co-op members, Morand said. Customers can gain membership by paying a one-time fee of $200, which will give them the ability receive annual dividends, elect board members and have a say in the store’s inventory. Morand added that while many co-ops are only open to their members, non-members will also have access to the Elm City Market.
While a regular membership will cost $200, the market will offer payment plans to attract low-income residents for as little as $20, Morand said. Outside investors along with other members of the co-op will contribute to a fund that will sponsor membership for low-income people. To qualify for the low-income membership, those interested will have to show proof of participation in a public assistance program.
“I think it’s great but I have concerns that [the co-op]won’t make it,” New Haven resident Richard Lee said.
During the question and answer period, an audience member noted a similar apartment complex in Hartford with plans for a grocery store to open by summer of 2010, but the store never materialized. Becker said that this will not happen with Elm City Market because the co-op will be run by its members, not by a corporation that can choose to close once profits decline.
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“Our tenants don’t want an empty ground floor,” he added.
Brau also noted that the co-op will offer affordable options in addition to gourmet and organic foods common to food co-ops. Though 70 percent of the store’s products will be organic, 30 percent will be conventional brands that appeal to low-income shoppers. Mark Regni, the store’s general manager, said that prices at Elm City Market will be lower than Trader Joe’s, but the quality will equal that of Whole Foods.
Tagan Engel, the chair of the New Haven Food Policy Council, said that the store will employ several strategies to cater to mainstream shoppers, such as putting well-known and generic brands at eye-level and decorating the store so that it doesn’t feel “too precious.”
“This needs to be a store that lower-income people feel they can go to, that people of color can go to, that people who aren’t native English speakers can go to,” Engel said.
Developers plan to advertise the store through their website, but one New Haven resident said that this is not enough to attract low-income customers.The resident said that there needs to be a grassroots effort to attract a broader range of customers to the co-op.
“A large section of New Haven doesn’t have access to Internet,” she said. “Part of getting in touch with the community is pounding the pavement.”
New Haven resident Ivan Liceaga said that though 24 percent of New Haven residents are below the poverty line, affordability will not be a concern as long as Regni delivers on his promise of accomodating affordable options in the co-op.
Yale student Jordan Zimmerman ’12, who attended the meeting and who is also an intern at the Yale Farm, said she thinks the Yale community is unaware of the hardships that low-income New Haven families face in terms of accessing food.
Brau said that people should look at membership in the co-op as an investment, citing a Burlington, Vt.co-op that released an average of $150 dividends to its members last year. He said that once Elm City Market acquires enough members, they can start doing outreach to a broader section of New Haven residents.
“Without you, there is no co-op,” said Morand, in an appealto potential members.
Branford resident David Engler said the market will have a really positive impact on the community and not just in terms of food, increasing healthy food options, providing new jobs and keeping money in the local economy
The store’s website, www.elmcitymarket.coop, launched yesterday. Once established, Elm City Market will be the only full-service grocery store in downtown New Haven.