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Milestone as phase II for community owned store in WIllmar, Minn., moves ahead

Nick Davis, from left, Vicki Davis and Mary Huesing make a presentation Saturday during the downtown "Celebrate Art! Celebrate Coffee!" arts festival to mark the Community Owned Grocery achieving its phase one goal of attracting 300 members. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

WILLMAR -- Organizers for a Community Owned Grocery reached a membership milestone that has launched the project into the phase II planning stage.

After a year in the works it was announced Saturday that 300 people had purchased membership stock in the food cooperative, known as COG.

"We've re-ached our goal. We've reached our 300-member mark," said Mary Catherwood, vice-president of the board of directors.

Catherwood and other board members made the announcement Saturday during the Celebrate Art! Celebrate Coffee! festival.

"It's a wonderful moment when we're ready to call an end to stage one and begin stage two," said Catherwood in an earlier interview.

Getting 300 people to invest $200 in the COG was set as the benchmark goal for advancing to the next stage of getting a community-owned, full-service grocery up and running in downtown Willmar.

Stage two includes "launching a new image for the COG," that includes hiring a part-time out-reach coordinator and allowing the site selection committee to actively search for a potential downtown building that has between 7,000 and 10,000 square feet of space with off-street parking.

The site committee is "selected and ready to move," said Catherwood. Their first meeting is scheduled for tonight when they will meet with Bill Gessner, a consultant from Cooperative Development Specialists in Minneapolis. Gessner is nationally recognized for organizing food cooperatives.

The second phase also includes an aggressive campaign to increase membership to 450 people.

Catherwood said the broad base of community support for the COG is reflected in the hometowns of the 300 founding members that come from 18 different zip codes. A majority are from Willmar, with very strong support from Atwater, New London and Spicer residents, she said.

The members cover a "whole spectrum" of demographics including "young families who are concerned about the food their children eat to grandparents who are concerned about the food their grandchildren eat. I think that's a lot of motivation for people," Catherwood said.

The coop will be owned "by your friends and neighbors and you," she said. "We see it as a community hub -- a gathering place."

The COG will feature a deli, coffee shop and local produce "as much as it is available" and will work with local growers to develop means to supply the store with locally grown food, Catherwood said.

Because the COG will be a full-service grocery store where every item on the grocery list can be purchased, Catherwood said not every product, like bananas, will come from Minnesota. The board intends to utilize a food transportation network that metro food coops use.

Next month a community forum will be held featuring two Minnesota coops that will provide information about how a full-service food coop operates and provide a glimpse of what organizers want the Willmar COG to look like.

Catherwood said when phase II is reached, the next stage is "hammer and nails" and opening up the store for customers.

No firm timeline has been set for the co-op to open.

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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