During the summer and fall of 1972, a pre-order food-buying group operated out of the basement of Summit Church at the corner of Westview and Greene streets. But Jules Timerman had a bigger plan and was convinced that Mt. Airy would support a full-fledged co-op.
Jules toured the neighborhood, selling apples from the back of his station wagon and talking about his co-op idea to anyone who would listen. When enough people had chipped in $10 apiece, Jules rented an old deli at 555 Carpenter Lane, stocked it with deli products and produce and opened for business on Jan. 13, 1973. Weavers Way Co-op was born.
Fruit boxes lined the right side of the store. Big glass deli cases and a counter for cutting and wrapping lined the left, with one aisle in between. The store was unheated and so small that there was no space for checkout. You’d go next door to 557 to pick up an order pad. You’d go back to 555 to select your groceries, and you’d write every product and price on the order pad. Then you’d return to 557 and pay for the groceries. Finally, you’d go back to 555 to pick up your order.
With no established credit, Jules had to empty the till each evening to finance the next day’s trip to the Food Distribution Center. But somehow, he kept things going, and word got around the neighborhood that produce at the Co-op was fresher and cheaper — and the cheese selection was great. By mid-1973, membership was up to 500. By December, a Board of Directors and bylaws were in place, and the first membership meeting was held at Summit Church.
In 1974, the Co-op purchased and moved into the larger corner building at 559 Carpenter Lane. A year later, Jules resigned as store manager, but the first member rebate — $4.99 per household — was paid out.
In subsequent years, Co-op members continued to meet twice a year to eat, greet and hash out issues. Sometimes there wasn’t a quorum and someone would run over to the store to round up enough people to hold a vote. Nevertheless, decisions were made — a work requirement was instituted, a credit union and a heating oil co-op started and staff hired — by 1978, Weavers Way had 19 employees, with health insurance and vacation for full-timers. (Weavers Way currently employs about 160.) Grapes were first boycotted in 1982, and the Co-op bought its first truck in 1989.
In 1990, an effort to organize members interested in buying organic produce presaged a new direction for the Co-op — a growing emphasis on healthy, sustainable food and fair food practices.
In 1991, the Coop bought 557 Carpenter Lane. After two years of major renovation — including excavating the basement, knocking out walls and relocating staircases — the new, improved Weavers Way opened in the combined 559/557. (It’s basically the same configuration today, albeit spiffed up in a 2012 renovation.)
In 2002, Weavers Way purchased 608 and 610 Carpenter Lane with the intention of opening a prepared foods takeout store and sit-down café. These plans were dashed, and the Co-op nearly bankrupted, with the discovery of fraudulent bookkeeping. Amid the crisis, Co-op fiscal practices were reformed, members paid a premium on purchases and staffers took pay cuts. By 2005, the Co-op was back on financially firm ground and was even able to purchase 555 Carpenter, the old deli location that was its original rented home. Weavers Way’s pet supply and wellness stores now occupy “Across the Way,” as the renovated 608-610 is known, and 555 houses WW offices and meeting space.
The Weavers Way Board of Directors created Weavers Way Community Programs in 2007 as a means to expand its role in the community. Farm and healthy food programs for children are at the heart of WWCP’s efforts. Funding comes from a mix of foundation support, individual contributions and a small amount of income earned by its programs.
In 2008, in partnership with the Ogontz Avenue Revitalization Corp., Weavers Way took over a storefront at 72nd and Ogontz avenues to serve the Oak Lane area. The Ogontz store was not financially successful and Weavers Way gave it up in 2011.
Weavers Way Farms got their start as a memorial to WW founding generation member Mort Brooks. The Mort Brooks Memorial Farm at Awbury Arboretum, first operated by volunteers in 2000 and converted to commercial production in 2007, supplies Weavers Way stores and farmers markets with organically grown produce in season. It also hosts many WWCP programs. The Henry Got Crops farm at W.B. Saul Agricultural High School was started in 2009 and is run as a CSA (community-supported agriculture) program in collaboration with teachers at Saul to serve as an educational opportunity for students.
Through nearly four decades and multiple store configurations in the immediate area of Greene and Carpenter, the subject of moving or expanding the Co-op was regularly discussed at general membership meetings and numerous “house meetings,” but no major changes of venue were approved. That finally changed in 2009, when the decision was made to expand to a second store. The old Caruso’s Market in Chestnut Hill became available, and was purchased that year. After renovation, the world’s first second Weavers Way store opened its doors at 8424 Germantown Ave. on May 15, 2010.
The same year, members voted to make the work requirement optional and to open shopping completely to non-members.
In 2013, Weavers Way made plans to expand with a health and wellness specialty operation adjacent to the main Weavers Way store in Chestnut Hill. “Next Door” brings the number of Weavers Way retail locations to four.
Today, the Co-op is an anchor of the Mt. Airy neighborhood around Carpenter and Greene, a vibrant part of Chestnut Hill’s shopping district and a growing influence in the citywide discussion on urban agriculture, access to healthy food and sound land use. Co-op membership has increased to 5,000 households, representing more than 10,000 people, and is a vital community institution in Northwest Philadelphia.