Food Desert Rescuer Renaissance Co-op in Greensboro is Closing

Renaissance co-op shoppers

GREENSBORO, NC — The Renaissance Community Cooperative, the community-owned grocery store heralded as salvation for one of the city’s food deserts, will close on Jan. 25, its board announced Wednesday.

The city spent a decade trying to lure a grocer to that area, which had been without one since 1998, before the community came up with the co-op idea.

Roodline Volcy, the president of the co-op’s board of directors, said the decision to close the store is heartbreaking.

“It was a huge accomplishment and all of the organizing in order for the RCC to even exist,” Volcy said. “It’s a huge accomplishment that the community should be very proud of.”

Getting a grocer with fresh foods marked a big change for the area, which is among more than a dozen places in Greensboro determined to be a food desert, an area lacking access to healthful foods such as fresh fruits and vegetables. The U.S. Department of Agriculture defines a food desert as an area where at least 33 percent of the population lives at least a mile from a supermarket and more than 20 percent live below the poverty level.

Teasha Blackmon has been a member since before the store opened and shops there once a week.

“I feel like we should continue to support our businesses, especially in our African-American communities,” she said.

Mayor Nancy Vaughan said the store’s closing is a loss for the neighborhood.

“They did a tremendous job opening that grocery store,” she said. “It showed an amazing amount of leadership and determination.”

City Councilwoman Goldie Wells, whose northeast council district includes the Phillips Avenue store, expressed her dismay as well.

“I’m just heartbroken over the whole thing,” she said.

East Greensboro Now (formerly East Market Street Development), an advocate for revitalization of the East Market Street corridor, was a strong supporter of the co-op.

“There are a lot of people who put a lot of time into making the co-op work, and I know there were a lot of supporters from East Greensboro and across the community,” said Mac Sims, president of East Greensboro Now.

The Greensboro-based Fund for Democratic Communities worked with Self-Help, a community development lender based in Durham, and Concerned Citizens for Northeast Greensboro to create and build the store, which opened in fall 2016.

“We are saddened to see the Renaissance Community Co-op close,” said Jenny Shields, director of media relations for Self-Help. “We have been strong supporters of their efforts to expand access to healthy foods in that community.”

Sales climbed steadily the first two months after the store opened, figures released by the co-op’s board show. Then, they stalled.

“At the end of the day, it’s a numbers game and the numbers just aren’t there,” said Mike Sakellaridis, the store’s general manager.

Sakellaridis was hired in the spring and started the day before a tornado tore through the neighborhood, leaving the shopping center without power for nearly a week. The store lost stock and sales.

“I knew there were going to be challenges,” Sakellaridis said.

On May 3, RCC’s board applied for and received $25,000 from Guilford County to help with community partnerships and marketing.

The store added promotional events and some new features.

But the shoppers failed to come, despite the marketing campaign and media coverage.

Wells agrees.

”We were never able to get those sales up. I guess after 18 years, they’d found other means of getting their groceries,” Wells said.

In a letter, the RCC Board thanked the co-op’s 1,300 community owners for their support and investment.

“Although closing the store hurts, it would be even worse if people took away from this experience misconceptions that we were unable to keep the store open because community ownership does not work or because of the community in which RCC operated,” the board said in the letter. “Allowing this to dim our commitment to community ownership as a method of community wealth building would be a true failure.”

Shields said Self-Help will begin a search for a suitable grocer to replace the RCC.

Sims would like to see another grocer.

“I feel confident that a store is needed in the area and we’ll find another to replace the operation,” Sims said.

Wells agrees.

“The name of the center is Renaissance, so we will rise again,” she said.

Co-op meeting

The Renaissance Community Cooperative board will host a community meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the store, 2517 Phillips Ave., to discuss the pending closure and answer questions.

Photo credit: H.Scott Hoffmann, News & Record

By Carl Wilson News & Record, Greensboro,  Jan 9, 2019

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