Wednesday, Nov. 30
Wednesday, Dec. 21
Community Room, 555 Carpenter Lane
(adjacent to the Mt. Airy store)
A letter from Jon Roesser, Weavers Way General Manager, and Chris Hill, Weavers Way Board President
Dear fellow Co-op members:
After over a year of evaluating various locations for a store in Ambler, PA, we have finally zeroed in on what we believe to be the best possible site.
Located at 217 E. Butler Ave. (map), a few blocks east of the historic Ambler Theater, the building is a former Bottom Dollar Food grocery store that is available for long-term lease.
Built less than four years ago and designed from the ground up for a grocery operation, the building has all the features we’ve been looking for. There’s a loading dock, ample back-stock space and a parking lot — with 85 spaces!
At 17,000 square feet, it’s significantly larger than our two current stores put together, though still small by modern grocery-store standards. By comparison, the Fresh Market in Chestnut Hill, itself relatively small for a grocery store, is about 28,000 square feet.
After factoring out space needed for back stock and a kitchen operation, plus bathrooms and offices, the store would wind up at about 10,000 square feet of retail space. That’s around double our retail square footage in Chestnut Hill and nearly triple what we have in Mt. Airy.
This is not a done deal.
- As the Shuttle goes to print, we’re still negotiating lease terms with Aldi Corp., which owns the building. (Aldi, the German-based discount grocer that runs Trader Joe's and Aldi stores, bought the real estate of the Bottom Dollar chain a couple of years ago. Many of the former Bottom Dollar buildings remain vacant).
- We’re also still lining up the financing needed for construction and equipment. Preliminary meetings with potential lenders have been extremely favorable. We’ve presented very conservative sales projections and shown them our market study, which indicates that Ambler is a “highly desirable” marketplace for our business model.
Part of our financing plan includes our Member Loan Campaign, launched on Oct. 14 and running through Dec. 9. (See the accompanying article by Laura Morris Siena and Kathleen Casey.) Member loans will be as integral to making the store in Ambler a reality as they were to opening our Chestnut Hill store back in 2010.
Throughout this process we’ve collaborated with the Ambler Food Co-op. Now at over 400 members, AFC has been working for the last few years to bring a natural-foods store to Ambler, a town without a grocery store of any kind within borough limits. These folks have embraced the cooperative model as the best way of achieving their goal.
One of the next steps will be the “joining” of the two co-ops, to happen shortly after Weavers Way signs the lease on the building. At the AFC General Membership Meeting on Oct. 9, members voted unanimously to authorize their board to take whatever steps were needed to become part of Weavers Way. We're delighted to welcome them!
In short, things are progressing nicely. We’re proceeding with design work assuming the lease will soon be signed and financing will soon be secured. This way, we’ll be ready to commence construction this winter. As the building is relatively new, in good structural shape and built to be a grocery store, this is a relatively easy construction project, so we’re told!
If things go according to plan — as if things ever go according to plan — we could open the doors to our new Ambler store in Spring 2017.
We recognize the risks an undertaking like this present to Weavers Way. Both of us have spent more than a few sleepless nights considering the pros and cons. The risks of growth must be weighed against the risks of not growing, and in the final analysis, we believe that growth is necessary.
The natural-foods industry and local-foods movement are growing. The Co-op is strong but our for-profit competitors aren’t sitting still, as the recently opened, 60,000-square-foot Whole Foods store near the Art Museum demonstrates.
This new Weavers Way in Ambler gives us an opportunity to meaningfully grow the cooperative economy in our region. All of us — members, employees, vendors and our community partners — stand to benefit from this growth.
We’ll continue to keep you posted as things progress. We have member forums on the Ambler project scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 30, and Wednesday, Dec. 21, with more to come. (Check the Online Event Calendar.) We’ll also give an update at the Fall General Membership Meeting on Sunday, Nov. 13. (For info and to RSVP to the GMM, visit www.weaversway.coop/Fall-2016-GMM.)