How Did That Get Built? Kensington Community Food Co-op
On the corner where Frankford Ave, Lehigh Ave and Coral Street meet, sits the Kensington Community Food Co-op. After nearly a dozen years in the making, KCFC opened its doors to the public on April 24th, 2019. The Co-op features a full grocery store with a focus on locally-sourced products, along with a gorgeous cafe serving coffee, kombucha, wine, and a wide variety of beers, both on tap and to-go.
What is A Co-Op?
A Cooperative grocery is an alternative to a traditional grocery store, in that it’s owned and operated by hundreds of local member/owners, who vote democratically about the way the co-op is run. The focus is on benefiting the local community and economy. Unlike corporate chains such as Whole Foods or Acme, who can readily launch new stores when they decide, a co-op begins with community organizing: every dime must be raised through events, fundraisers and memberships (it’s a $200 lifetime cost to a member/co-owner of KCFC). Because creating a co-op is a true neighborhood effort, it can serve as a community hub and gathering space. Across the nation, co-ops foster community spirit and often change people’s awareness about food sources and options.
Who Came Up With KCFC?
The idea for the Kensington Community Food Co-op came from East Kensington resident Lena Helen and Solo agent Jeff Carpineta, both active residents of the area who were deeply inspired by their time shopping at Co-ops both in Philadelphia and Portland, Oregon. They organized a field trip to the Weaver’s Way in Mount Airy: considered one of the heroes of the co-operative movement in the U.S. The trip inspired a dozen neighbors to form a steering group, research how to start a food co-op in Kensington, and begin the grassroots work.
As the idea for the co-op gained traction, pop-ups, fundraisers, and other events helped to spread awareness and raise money throughout the city. Along the way, Philadelphia LISC provided a grant for a feasibility study, and a partnership with Greensgrow Farms surveyed 500 residents to find out more about their needs and vision for a new grocery store.
Jeff stayed on the leadership team of the project, and years later, together with Deborah Solo, they were instrumental in securing a building–quite literally–as it had been vandalized and squatted after the old bar closed. Mike and Sue Wade, owners of Knights Abstract title company, having helped hundreds of first time buyers in the neighborhood, played a huge role and purchased the building when it became available. The Co-op finally had a place to call home. Deborah and Jeff helped select Studio 6mm architects, and helped with fundraising to transform what was formerly O’Reilly’s Pub (Shannon’s bar before that) into the beautiful grocery and cafe you’ll see today.
In the 11 year journey to doors-opening, KCFC raised just over $2 million. For a traditional grocery store, capital funding is acquired privately. That’s a key difference between large corporations and new community co-ops. Co-op’s source every dollar from a huge patchwork of neighbors, foundations, the City, and community development lenders like Reinvestment Fund. $2 million was a price tag that first steering group never dreamed would be needed or possible to secure, but a decade later their inspiration became reality.
Now at over 1000 members strong, the co-op works to provide community residents with fresh, healthy, locally sourced food and beverages. Even more valuable, though, are the opportunities it provides for the community. Upon entering the Co-op, you can learn more about the suppliers who grow and produce the products sold there, many of whom are located in Philadelphia and surrounding communities.
Community groups and projects across the City use the cafe to gather, along with neighbors enjoying a beer or kombucha after work (and coffee in the morning). KCFC’s Food For All (FFA) initiative helps lower-income neighbors save money on their grocery bill by offering a 10% discount, and flexible membership options mean that everyone, no matter their income, can access everything the Co-op has to offer.
Building a Local Network
Something the Co-op created early on was a “Shop Local Network” connecting dozens of business in the area. If you’re a member of KCFC – you get 10% off at Philadelphia Brewing Company, 15% at the new The Head & The Hand bookstore, discounts at Greensgrow, Fireball Printing, and 50 favorite places (dentist and car mechanic included).
The Co-op creates jobs too. Though the dozens of people who organized the project were volunteers, the KCFC store has all paid staff working in the cafe, bar, and store. As Kensington, Fishtown and Old Richmond neighborhoods continue to build energy, the Co-op is another great way for residents to get involved in community and build local economy. Less than six months after opening, KCFC is bringing new life to this important corner of Kensington.