With Roots Closed, Group Hopes to Open Co-op Grocery Store in Cedar Falls
Around 70 people met to discuss the possibility of starting a new co-op grocery store in Cedar Falls.
Could a new co-op grocery store be opening in Cedar Falls?
A group of local shoppers hopes that answer will be yes. But if so, it will take a lot of work, planning and time.
Tom Wickersham and three others organized a meeting last week after doing research into co-ops. They said felt spurred to action by the recent closure of Roots Market, a small, organic-focused grocery store that operated on Cedar Falls' Main Street for 11 years.
"I got this spark in me to start doing something," Wickersham said. "I’m kind of jazzed."
About 70 people attended the meeting at the Cedar Falls Community Center on Sept. 6. Wickersham preached patience. The average time between a group forming to start a co-op grocery and the doors opening is five to nine years, he said.
Co-ops - cooperatives - are independent, member-owned and collectively governed stores. Examples in the region include recently opened RiverLoop Public Market in Waterloo, New Pioneer in Iowa City and Oneota in Decorah.
People at the meeting were cautiously optimistic about the idea of starting a similar venture in Cedar Falls. A Facebook group dedicated to the idea has quickly garnered over 200 likes.
But there are plenty of questions to be answered before a Cedar Falls co-op gets off the ground.
What doomed Roots? Owner Rob Pruitt attributed his store's closure to not being able to compete with big chains like Hy-Vee and Walmart that now offer organic food. And what about the recently closed Tallgrass Grocery Co-op in West Des Moines?
At the meeting, some people also pointed to the days of Cotton Top Co-op, which was open in downtown Cedar Falls in the 1980s before going out of business.
Yet Wickersham said he's not ready to let those concerns get him down. As long as others sign up for the ride, he hopes the idea of a Cedar Falls co-op could go far.
"I honestly believe we are in the midst of a food revelation right now," he said. "All we’re going to do is feed off that interest."
He mentioned the success of co-ops in towns with similar or even smaller populations and said lessons could be drawn from those stores. He and others at the meeting also said lessons could be learned from the closures of Tallgrass and Roots. Roots' high prices were often mentioned - several people said co-ops in other towns they shop at are priced more closely to chain store prices than Roots was.
Some wondered if there would be enough interest with the already-existent RiverLoop Market in Waterloo. But others countered they would be more likely to visit a co-op closer to where they live. They like RiverLoop, they said, but want something like it in Cedar Falls.
"I think it's a great idea, especially with the closing of Roots," said Matthew Dunning, of Cedar Falls.
For now, Wickersham and his cohorts continue to plan, and are looking for people who may want to join a planning committee. Anyone looking for more information should visit the Facebook page or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.