Electric City Coop Two-thirds of Way to Membership Goal

Schenectady, NY, co-op group wants to bring natural food market to city's downtown

In February, Rivers Casino will open its doors, joining Proctors, the Bow Tie movie theater, and several top-notch restaurants as major attractions in downtown Schenectady.

But despite everything to do and see, there still isn't a major grocery store to serve visitors and the growing number of city residents downtown.

"It's kind of amazing that piece is missing," Kat Wolfram said during a recent interview.

For the past four years or so, the retired educator and molecular biologist has been working with the six-member Electric City Food Cooperative Board to fill that void with a natural food market.

Last week, Wolfram, who grew up on a farm in South Carolina, said she was excited to have signed up the 197th member. Since then, she's added another member and is at 198.

Cris Murray of Delmar is one of those owner members.

She recalled joining in late November, a few days after meeting and talking with Wolfram, at the ViaPort Rotterdam.

"I liked Kat and thought she was smart about the way she was putting it (co-op) together," said Murray, 43, who shops a few times monthly at the Honest Weight Food Co-op in Albany. Specifically, Murray said she liked the fact that Wolfram wanted to put the co-op in a place that is easily accessible by pedestrians and that it would be an outlet for farmers to sell their goods.

Membership is $200 for a household of up to four people.

The goal is get 300 members, the accepted industry standard, before backers typically start looking for a location, she said.

On average, it takes 3 to 7 years for co-ops to open, added Wolfram.

"We're committed to downtown because it's a food desert," Wolfram said. "Our goal is to increase access to fresh, healthy food and we want to make it affordable."

Right now, the group doesn't have a location in mind, but Wolfram said they always have their eyes open for any potential sites.

"We need parking, easy access to (Interstate) 890 ... and it has to be in a great place where there is no access to fresh food," she said. "What we need is parking for destination shoppers so it's not just for local shoppers in the neighborhood."

Once the members settle on a spot, Wolfram said they plan to conduct a market study.

She envisions the store having a bulk section, hiring and buying locally in what she described as the patronage refund model where each member or owner of the co-op gets back part of the profit from their purchases.

"If we can get something locally, that's what we want, whether it's organic or conventional," Wolfram said.

Though she and her husband live in Niskayuna, which has its own co-op, Wolfram talked about one day moving to downtown Schenectady.

Wolfram recalled holding a community meeting in 2012 that drew about 50 people to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Schenectady.

From there, a steering committee was formed and the group spent a year studying co-ops before incorporating in 2013.

Jim Salengo, executive director of the Downtown Schenectady Improvement Corp., said a grocery store in the right location and with a good business model would be a welcome addition, especially considering more residential developments are being constructed downtown.

Councilman Vince Riggi agrees.

"A lot of people would like to shop and buy groceries to make dinner because everybody can't eat out every night," said Riggi.

For more information or to make a donation to the Electric City Food Cooperative, go to http://www.electriccityfood.coop.

Paul Nelson, December 30, 2016

[email protected] • 518-454-5347 • @apaulnelson

Images by Paul Buckowski / Times Union

(top) Kat Marsh Wolfram, background left, the board president of the Electric City Food Cooperative, meets with new members of the coop, Sean Britten, foreground left, of Schenectady, his girlfriend Lisa Sharp, foreground right, of Schenectady and Cris Merray of Delmar at the Happy Cappuccino on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Schenectady, N.Y.

A view of a shopping bag for the Electric City Food Cooperative, seen here on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Schenectady, N.Y.

Cris Merray of Delmar, a new member of the Electric City Food Cooperative meets with organizers and other members at the Happy Cappuccino on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Schenectady, N.Y.

New members of the Electric City Food Cooperative, Lisa Sharp, left, of Schenectady and her boyfriend Sean Britten of Schenectady meet with organizers and other members at the Happy Cappuccino on Wednesday, Dec. 28, 2016, in Schenectady, N.Y.

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