Co-op Conversion Offers a Potential Solution to
Grocery Store Loss
What do you do when the only grocery store in your town decides to
close? A cooperative buy-out and
conversion may offer a solution.
Phil’s Supermarket, a family-owned and operated grocery store, has been
a fixture in Plain, WI, population 773, for over 90 years. But in the last few years, the family owners
had decided that it was time to sell the business, and had unsuccessfully pursued
several potential buyers. Shutting down
the business had increasingly appeared to be their only option.
But there was plenty of community interest in maintaining this downtown
anchor business, and the executive director of the Sauk County Development
Corporation, who had attended the Madison Cooperative Jobs Conference in June,
began to explore a cooperative solution to save Plain’s only grocery store.
He contacted UWCC’s Courtney Berner, who over the course of the summer
met with community leaders to introduce the cooperative model, explore how a
conversion of the grocery business to a cooperative might work, and facilitate
the formation of a steering committee for the project.
A community meeting in December of 2012 generated strong community support
for the idea of a cooperative grocery store and within a few weeks nearly 200
people had pledged to become members. Many
also expressed a willingness to make a loan to a new cooperative venture and
offered to volunteer on the project.
Courtney continues to work with the four task forces that have been set
up to tackle the financial, marketing and business planning issues involved in
a potential buyout and conversion. Two
other grocery co-ops in the region have expressed willingness to provide technical
support for a conversion to a cooperative grocery store structure.
are hopeful that the resources, skills, and common vision evident so
far bode well for developing a cooperative solution to a problem
all too common in rural communities across Wisconsin.