Dear Fellow Member-Owners,
As a followup to our letter in the April Shuttle, we’d like to give you another update regarding the opportunity we’ve been considering for a store in Ambler, PA.
After looking at several properties in Ambler Borough over the course of the last year, we’ve identified a building that we believe makes sense for us. At this time we’re working towards a contingency lease that would allow us to secure the property for a period of time while we conclude our due-diligence studies.
The building is, in many ways, right up our alley. It would allow us to operate a future Ambler store that would be similar in scope to our two current stores. The Ambler store would have all of our traditional departments and would provide for all of the important features necessary for successful operations: parking, delivery zones, space for back stock, a kitchen for prepared foods and possibly some indoor seating. (We still haven’t figured out where the turkey trailer would go.)
Like our current stores, the Ambler location is easily accessible on foot and by bike. It is part of a dense, walkable commercial strip, close to other businesses, the train station and the Ambler Theater.
Our product philosophy emphasizing natural, organic and locally grown and produced foods would carry over to the new store. But, as with the stores in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill, the specific product mix would be adjusted to meet the needs of the Ambler community. The Ambler store, while adhering to our product philosophy, would be as unique and special as our current stores.
In Ambler, we would operate based on the same triple bottom line of our existing stores, with the same commitment to strengthening the community and protecting the environment. And of course, it would bring the cooperative business model to a whole new group of people, many of whom have already embraced that model by forming our partner in this endeavor, the Ambler Food Co-op.
The members of the Ambler Food Co-op have worked incredibly hard to bring a co-op store to their community. They continue to work hard as our partners, providing connections to borough and Montgomery County officials, communicating with community stakeholders and continuing the hard work of recruiting new members.
An Ambler store would be owned and operated by Weavers Way Co-op, and the Ambler Food Co-op members are looking forward to becoming members of Weavers Way and supporting what will be very much their store.
We’ve approached this opportunity very carefully. We’ve talked to our existing lending partners and other key stakeholders, conducted a thorough market study and enlisted the help of various professional consultants. All indicators suggest this is a good business decision.
We’re also very aware of the cultural implications of growing outside our traditional marketplace. Already the Co-op’s extraordinary growth has made connecting with members difficult. Weavers Way now has nearly 6,000 member households; opening a store in Ambler will probably bring in more than a thousand more. Keeping so many member-owners informed and connected to the Co-op will be a challenge.
Fortunately, we can learn from the experience of other co-ops around the country. Some have done a very good job of keeping their members engaged. Others are little more than cooperatively owned mini-Whole Foods chains, with a small group of engaged members but a largely non-member customer base.
We don’t want that to happen to us, and we’ll work hard to prevent it. Reaffirming our commitment to a robust Working Member program is an essential starting point. Making sure the people in Ambler continue to feel as engaged as members of Weavers Way as they are as members of the Ambler Food Co-op is also critical. And we’ll have to be effective at serving as cooperative evangelists, spreading the good news of the cooperative movement.
Expanding the cooperative model matters. It is critical to ensuring a more equitable, just and caring local economy. We sincerely believe this opportunity to grow Weavers Way is in the best interest of all of us.
We will continue to use the Shuttle to keep you informed as there are further developments related to Ambler.