On Monday, August 1st at exactly 1:51pm an e-mail went out to over 3,000 members of the Champaign-Urbana community that started off with the following in big, bold letters: “You did it! As of this minute we have owner loan pledges totaling $665,000!”
Common Ground Food Co-op sent this message of celebration out to its over 3,000 owners that day at the conclusion of its owner loan drive for its upcoming expansion at Lincoln Square Mall. In just 59 short days during the sleepy C-U summer when many are out of town, Common Ground had raised over half a million dollars in loan commitments to help fund the store’s planned build out project that will grow the current store to 2.5 times its current size.
Common Ground moved to its current Lincoln Square location in August of 2008. After being founded in and residing in the Illinois Disciples Foundation building at Springfield and Wright on campus for 35 years as a little store of 900 retail square feet open only to those who chose to purchase an equity share of the co-op and become an owner, Common Ground raised $270,000 in owner loans to make the leap to its first store front location that was open not only to owners but the general public as well. Common Ground completed the build out of the old Bergner’s space that had been vacant for seven years. Common Ground’s doors were opened in August―three years ago―and it been a runaway success ever since.
At the time of the co-op’s move to Lincoln Square both the board and the management were aware it was very likely the co-op’s success would soon outgrow the new store space and secured an option on additional space next door to its current location. With sales now increased almost 300% since the co-op’s move from campus to Urbana, Common Ground is beginning the build out of its expanded store late this fall.
To plan the expanded store, Common Ground did an in depth survey with its owners in January of this year to find out what services and products they felt would make the co-op a greater resource to the community. From those results, Common Ground’s sales trends, and industry data from other food co-ops around the nation, a plan for the expanded store’s offerings was created. New offerings planned for the store are an expanded deli with hot, made-to-order foods, handmade pizza by the slice, and an espresso bar; a beer and wine selection with local, regional, and organic offerings; fresh, in-house bakery breads made from organic ingredients; and an expanded local meats freezer section as well as a new fresh meat case.
All current departments the co-op offers, from our bountiful produce department featuring organic and local produce to our bulk and grocery departments will be greatly increased as well, most to double their current size. Build out will start late this fall and is expected to be completed by late spring 2012. The construction will be done in phases while the current store stays open. Customers will be able to watch the changes as they are unveiled department by department.
As a cooperative business, Common Ground is driven not by sheer profit but by a desire to meet the goals set forth by its owners for the organization. To vastly expand our ability to further two of our goals, to be the center of a vibrant and inclusive community and to serve as an educational resource on food issues, Common Ground’s expanded store will feature an in store classroom that will be able to seat two dozen students at a time and will have a full demonstration kitchen for cooking classes. When not in use as a classroom, the room will be open for customers to use as a place to enjoy their deli food and converse with their fellow owners.
Common Ground is the success it is because of the amazing community that has created it and continues to support it. The co-op’s owners have once again shown their deep faith in and belief in the mission of Common Ground by providing the funds to make this expansion possible. Through the growth of Common Ground, we can continue to grow our local food shed, support a stronger local economy, create good jobs, and make the change we want to see in our community. Thank you to everyone who invested in Common Ground, both in 2008 and this year, and to all who continue to support it!