The Early Days of the Co-op
Early in 2015 a few members of the Fredericksburg Vegetarian Group began discussing the idea of creating a food co-op. They spent months researching the idea and during this time they visited other food co-ops and reached out to the Food Co-op Initiative (FCI), a national organization that helps communities start and successfully open food co-ops.
The founding group grew to five members and in September of 2015, they decided to incorporate the Co-op as a legal entity.
These five individuals became the founding board of the Co-op. Their goal was to open a community-owned food co-op that would be centered around four core values: (1) local foods – giving priority to local farmers and other producers; (2) environmental sustainability; (3) community – sharing information on the link between food and health and being a gathering place for people and ideas; and (4) operating a financially viable local business co-op.
The founding board reached out to the community to gain support for the idea of a co-op and to invite others to volunteer their time and effort to this mission. Co-op board members and volunteers spoke at numerous community meetings, including Rotary groups, Lions Clubs, church and school groups, and many more. The Co-op began holding events almost weekly – from cooking classes to tabling at the Farmers Market to presentations on sustainability.
With the consistent growth of the Co-op, the board commissioned a market study in 2017 which concluded that the Fredericksburg region could support a natural foods co-op of about 10,000 square feet. In 2018, the Co-op worked with a commercial realtor to begin the process of selecting a location for the Co-op.
In 2019, the board launched an owner loan campaign with a goal of raising $1.6 million in Owner Loans that have a 15-year maturity. The campaign proved very successful and a total of $1.7 million was raised. However, by 2020 it became necessary for the Co-op to raise more funds because the cost of the project had grown to $4.3 million from a prior estimate of $3.5 million and also because banks were less willing to lend to startup food co-ops than in previous years. Our 2020 capital campaign – although launched during the early days of Covid – was a success and we raised an additional $780,000. The capital from owners combined with a $1.4 million loan from the National Co-op Bank proved sufficient to open the store and retain an adequate capital reserve.
During its pre-opening process, our Fredericksburg Food Co-op was a model of success. In 2019, we were named the “Startup Co-op of the Year” by the Food Co-op Initiative. Our owner growth was unusually fast – surpassing an owner a day during 2018, 2019, and 2020 – a pace that few startups achieve. We raised more money in a faster time than nearly any other startup in food co-op history. And our Co-op was the first food co-op ever to receive a loan guarantee from the Small Business Administration.
At the end of 2019 the board hired our first employee, the General Manager, whose first tasks were to get the store designed, renovated and operational. The store opened on April 1, 2021!
The early work of the Co-op’s founding board and the hundreds of passionate volunteers laid the groundwork for the success of the Fredericksburg Food Co-op. From an idea of a handful of Fredericksburg residents, the Co-op has become the wonderful community-owned grocery that it is today.