By Jessica

Business owners along the Avenue of the States all agreed that retail traffic is routinely low, but with the grand opening of Chester’s first “community-owned grocery” store over the weekend, many are optimistic that Chester’s Central Business District is one step closer to revitalization and Chester’s Co-op may be the catalyst needed in generating more foot traffic.

Chester, recently called a “food desert” in one press account, now has its first community-owned grocery store, providing low-cost, locally-grown produce, vegetables, meat, herbs and many other items carried by big-name supermarkets outside the city.

In being community-owned, the market is run by the members who shop there and the shelves are often stocked with items requested by shoppers. Members pay $50 to join, a $200 refundable investment, and agree to work three hours a month.

Non-members will be able to shop there for the first two weeks.

The market, significantly capitalized with a $150,000 grant from The Reinvestment Fund on the fourth request for funding, the co-op was the brainchild of Tina Johnson, a Chester-resident and community activist who said she realized long ago the market could benefit people on several levels, aside from the demand for access to quality food.

“I live in the city and I know unemployment has been a big issue,” Johnson said. Johnson said the co-op idea dates back to 2005 and in 2007 she started managing mobile food tents at Stinson Towers twice a month.

The new co-op, which also has a coffee shop open to non-members, offers job training and experience to members. “I know someone who wanted to get a job at Starbucks, but he didn’t have experience,” Johnson said, adding, “We can train him to work in our coffee shop so he can get that job in the future.” The labor that members provide is what allows the market to keep the cost of food as low as possible. Johnson said the estimated price per pound of bananas at ShopRite was 69 cents, whereas the co-op only charges 30 cents.

“This store can make a tremendous difference in the city,” co-op member Ken Wright, of Swarthmore, said. “This could be the anchor store for the downtown area.” Wright, whose family was from Chester, now serves the co-op in memory of his father who worked in Chester his entire life. Wright recalled Chester’s booming business in its heyday and hopes to see it come back. On opening weekend, the co-op attracted approximately 230 new members, including Mayor Wendell N. Butler, Jr.

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