Arbor Update

Ann Arbor Area Community News

Should PFC Expand to Liberty Lofts?

16. September 2008 • Nancy Shore
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I don’t know about you, but when I read this article in the Ann Arbor Business Review, I thought it meant that the People’s Food Coop was considering moving to the Liberty Lofts space from their present location.

No so.

When I was shopping at the Co-op on Sunday, I spoke with an employee. He told me that the Co-op is actually looking to add another store in the Liberty Lofts space. The employee also told me that the Co-op is surveying members to determine if the Liberty Loft space is a good location.

A paper survey is available at the Co-op at the table close to the registers. The survey asks information on where you came from, how much you spent, etc. It will help the Co-op Board as they consider this opportunity.

If you are interested in seeing another grocery store in the downtown, please take the time to fill out the Co-op’s Survey the next time you are in the store.

  1. Moving to Liberty Lofts could be a real problem when we get a large rain event; not if, when. The flood maps show the flood elevation at the First and Washington site across the street at 3-4 feet, it is probably more higher.

    The city government and developers has been working overtime to obfuscate the hazard of the Allen’s Creek Floodplain for years in hopes of developing the city owned sites (and others) without a real understanding of the flood hazard.

    Just one example is the $1M homeless shelter plan that was scraped just before ground breaking because a near by resident showed it was really in the floodway and would have been illegal.

    I have to wonder what the insurance cost would be.

    As a long time member of the coop I will be talking to them about this potential and real hazard they should stay away from.

       —Vince Caruso    Sep. 16 '08 - 05:13AM    #
  2. Sorry: the 3-4’ elevation is at First and William St

       —Vince Caruso    Sep. 16 '08 - 05:18AM    #
  3. I could definitely see a grocery store in that spot, and I can see why the Co-op would move there, but it seems weird to me to have the Co-op add an additional space so close to their existing space. I remember when the Co-op had a satellite space on Packard and that never seemed to work out too well. If the Co-op was going to have an additional store, I would think they might want to be in a different part of town. Unless the Co-op expands the current Cafe Verde into the full Co-op space and moves the grocery store to Liberty Lofts. That I can see.

    The local stores I can see moving to Liberty Lofts are Village Corner, Fresh Seasons, or the Produce Station. All three of those have potential issues with their current spaces and would be good fits at Liberty Lofts. I can also see a small additional Merchant of Vino store there. But I’m having a hard time imaging an additional Co-op.

    Interesting that the Library is looking at Liberty Lofts too.

       —Juliew    Sep. 16 '08 - 05:50AM    #
  4. It is a good time to move the Coop, to a space not accessible to anti-Israel picketers.

       —Coop Member    Sep. 16 '08 - 08:26AM    #
  5. It’d be great to have a grocery store there!

    Agreed that the co-op wouldn’t be my first choice given their existing location’s already pretty close to there, but I wouldn’t complain.

       —Bruce Fields    Sep. 16 '08 - 08:55AM    #
  6. I agree that a food store there would be great, and I especially like the idea of something like Produce Station or Fresh Seasons, since we really could use more fresh stuff near downtown and I can see how people could use a shop there “in transit” by bike, foot, bus, or car on the West Side, as well in a more leisurely way on weekends. But I too would find it weird to have the Co-op in two sites so close together. I’d rather have variety.

       —Aki    Sep. 16 '08 - 03:48PM    #
  7. I think the Liberty Lofts space is ideally suited to a European-style indoor market where multiple vendors share the space…each with their own booth/store. I’m thinking Zingerman’s could have a spot, and Morgan & York, and Everyday Wines, and Espresso Royale, and Durham’s Tracklements, and Sparrow Meats, and bakeries, and local farms, and … fish, produce, juice, flowers, sandwiches, meat, perhaps soaps, crafts, books, hats, etc etc. Get the picture? Sort of like Pike Place Market in Seattle. Check out:

    Man, Ann Arbor would be the PLACE TO BE!

       —S.    Sep. 16 '08 - 08:01PM    #
  8. Um. Like Kerrytown?

       —imjustsayin    Sep. 16 '08 - 08:42PM    #
  9. The Library’s interest might have something to do with the Library Board’s vote to tear down the main branch.

       —Matt Hampel    Sep. 17 '08 - 12:12AM    #
  10. Huh.

    Sure, I would support any and all of the suggestions! I’d go there all the time. I’ll definitely stop by the PFC to fill out a form.

    I love the market idea, though should point out that South Main Market is already trying something similar on a smaller scale nearby. Still, it would be cool.

    Juliew, wasn’t the Packard location their first store?

       —Young Urban Amateur    Sep. 17 '08 - 02:43AM    #
  11. I appreciate reading the comments and ideas. It is probably true, that the two stores would need to serve different markets.

    It is easier to speak to history – The Packard Store closed partly from losing our lease, partly from Whole Foods coming to town and sales declining but then leveling off. At different times, Fourth Ave. carried Packard, and Packard carried Fourth Ave.

    The Co-op had a storefront on Packard a few doors down from the last Packard location, where Jack’s Hardware is now. We’ve also had two locations on Fourth Ave.

    The first real location for the Co-op was 215 S. State St. – I’m not sure what is there now but that is the East side of State St. between Liberty and Washington. Many counter-culture storefronts were there, we were a small space in front of “Little Things” and sold peanuts, peanut butter, honey, sunflower seeds, brown rice and soy beans. Yum. Thankfully we’ve come a very very long way from that time. That was 1971. The second location was 802 S. State St. Then 722 Packard, the lower part of a house.

    212 N. Fourth Ave. didn’t open until 1975, a second store. 10 years later, in 1985, the Packard Street store moved from the house to the a few doors further down Packard. The Fourth Ave. Store changed locations to the present space in 1994. The Packard Store closed for good March of 1997 when the building was sold.

    For all of its history, The People’s Food Co-op has had somewhat small stores, with difficulties handling back stock and cramped offices and space for staff. The idea of expansion has been in the air for at least ten years, soon after Packard closed. We’ve had two stores most of the time – with wide swings of success.

    And it remains an open question – where can the Co-op open a 2nd store? I’d be curious to hear suggestions. Perhaps there ideas that have been overlooked?

    I’m serving on the board of directors, but speak here for myself alone.

    But I can add this bit of info. As it said in the linked article, the board is in the information collection process, and just beginning to talk to and hear from the membership about this possible location. There is strong agreement that people love the Fourth Ave store, it is very successful, and closing it as part of an expansion is not an option.

    It will be an interesting process.

    Linda Diane Feldt

       —Linda Diane Feldt    Sep. 17 '08 - 07:33AM    #
  12. What will the directors do to end the protests outside the Coop?

       —Coop Member    Sep. 17 '08 - 11:06PM    #
  13. The idea a Produce-style market at the Liberty Lofts is a great idea. I’m guessing that it would have to be rather small scaled as parking in that area would limit the size, would it not?

       —Scooter62    Sep. 17 '08 - 11:32PM    #
  14. this would completely change the life of every person who lived in liberty lofts, i have no doubt the entire building would shop there daily

    if the co-op did this, it would blow my mind

       —a co-op shopper and liberty lofts resident    Sep. 18 '08 - 08:03PM    #
  15. How about the Co-op moving to the Leopold Brothers building? A lovely, eco-friendly, reclaimed space, parking, and a huge storage area in the back. There would be some competition with By the Pound for bulk food, but maybe the Co-op could do less of that in this store.

       —Juliew    Sep. 19 '08 - 12:54AM    #
  16. a co-op shopper and liberty lofts resident, you may get your wish someday soon. Or, at least something as good or better.


       —Michael    Sep. 19 '08 - 08:01AM    #
  17. I am an Old West Side resident, a longtime PFC member, and a sometimes PFC shopper. For what it’s worth, a Liberty Lofts location would greatly increase our Co-op shopping. It’s weird, but the difference in proximity, though seemingly small, would make a big difference. Fourth Avenue isn’t on my way to anywhere else I usually go, except the Farmer’s Market. It doesn’t have easy parking, and it’s too far to carry a lot of purchases on my bike. PFC at Liberty Lofts would be a pleasant destination walk for me. I would shop there several times a week. I’m not defending these choices, but I know myself, and this is what would happen. So from a perfectly selfish point of view, I would love to see PFC in Liberty Lofts. From a member point of view, I hope the decision will be made in a way that optimizes PFC’s long term economic viability.

       —SayHey    Sep. 19 '08 - 03:13PM    #
  18. How about the Co-op moving to the Leopold Brothers building?

    Could PFC afford the rent the Leopold’s could not?

       —Tom Brandt    Sep. 19 '08 - 05:57PM    #
  19. There are 52 or 53 parking spaces at the Eaton site (aka Liberty Lofts), specifically for that building. There is also street parking, and a lot across First that is not restricted on weekends. The current store has no dedicated parking, free spaces after 5:00 on weekdays and all weekend across the street, and metered parking nearby, often in competition with Kerrytown and Farmers’ or Artisans’ Markets.

    So parking would be better, by far. A previous market analysis we had done suggested retail space that size would need around 150 parking spots – but I believe that as with SayHey and the Liberty Lofts residents, there will be plenty of shoppers who don’t need parking. Especially in our high-fuel-cost economy right now. It would be neat to find out if the Link bus or something like it could be routed that way.

    I’m also on the board at PFC, but not speaking for the board.

    Just so people have a grasp of the process, the GM is the driver on whether and where we expand, and the board is there to authorize/support, not dictate. We as a board are enthusiastic about expansion possibilities, but we’re exercising our due diligence to not take any bad decisions.

       —Pete S.    Sep. 29 '08 - 06:27PM    #
  20. I’ve really liked how the co-op has studied the issue. To get a sense where their customers are coming from, they did a survey asking current customers where they were going to, where coming from, and how that affected their buying decisions.

    There is a locally-owned natural foods store that is closer to my house, but I usually shop at the Co-op. Mostly that’s because I believe in co-op values, but also because the co-op is on my way to and from work.

       —Chuck Warpehoski    Sep. 30 '08 - 12:52AM    #
  21. We shop at the coop on saturdays in part because we can do a farmers market run as well; that turns that morning into a fun family routine instead of a chore.

    One thing that would make me shop at the coop more would be more transparency in prices – if I knew exactly how much everything was going to cost before I went to the store, I’d be able to know how to divide the weekly list between the coop and the other stores that get parts of the grocery bill (tj’s, whole foods, kroger, produce station).

       —Edward Vielmetti    Sep. 30 '08 - 07:32AM    #
  22. ‘…more transparency in prices’

    What’s opaque? I shop there multiple times a week and I seem to find the prices for everything I buy. Is it that you have to look for the price for vegetables? This is not unlike other stores. I certainly like that the fruits and vegetables are not individually packaged and priced, like TJ’s.

    ‘…before I went to the store…’ Huh?

       —abc    Sep. 30 '08 - 04:50PM    #
  23. Transparency in prices, like the whole database of store prices is available online, and you can look up how much rice or granola is before you go.

       —Edward Vielmetti    Sep. 30 '08 - 07:23PM    #
  24. How much floor space is antcipated at the Liberty Lofts site as opposed to the current store facility?

       —Mark Koroi    Sep. 30 '08 - 11:00PM    #
  25. The price transparency is an interesting issue. As I understand it, this is mostly in the computer. One problem is that prices are changing faster than ever these days, reflecting fuel costs. Any time lag between new prices and web updating could make a big difference.
    It would be interesting to find out if it would be a competitive advantage – do Co-op shoppers mostly shop for convenience, price, loyalty, politics? Some combination?
    I shop at the Co-op because I like the store and the experience, and believe in supporting Co-ops. And they have what I need. I’m very fortunate that price is a lesser factor. But I mostly buy bulk foods and produce, and the value is there.
    Is there any store that has their database of prices on the web?

       —Linda Diane Feldt    Oct. 1 '08 - 07:09PM    #
  26. As long as the Co-op asks for less than $700 billion.

       —$700 billion    Oct. 2 '08 - 01:38AM    #
  27. Mark, the Eaton property has 19,000 sq ft of space, with the possibility of adding a mezzanine level near Liberty for another 6,000 sq ft.

    The available space will not all be retail, of course – backstock, offices, meeting room, etc. will take up at least a third of that. Even so, it would mean likely nearly tripling available retail space. That would allow larger wholesale buys, and lower prices in many departments. The ‘big box’ stores and multi-store chains get the economies of scale of massive buying, which co-ops generally do not. Larger stores means lessening some of that gap.

       —Pete S.    Oct. 2 '08 - 06:51PM    #
  28. As a prospective Liberty Lofts resident, love the idea of the Co-op locating there, especially if it developed as a European-style multi-vendor locale.

       —Stephen Cain    Oct. 2 '08 - 06:54PM    #
  29. Frankly, I would prefer to see the return of the bread co-op than see the food co-op try a go at another location. The memory of getting stiffed on dividend checks so as to cover Cafe Verde expenses lingers on. As one who uses the food co-op as my primary source of groceries, I am a bit protective of the resources than risk more setbacks on adventure as such.

    South Main Market is there for the OWS and they once had that open-air market feel before they moved to the current location. Liberty Lofts would offer that atmosphere, true, but it could be a total belly flop as well. Market research anyone? With Plum, Aldi (forthcoming), Trader Joes, WholeFoods*2, and the sundry of Krogers/Meijers, the Co-op@LL just doesn’t seem to offer anything unique, especially in such proximity to its existing store. I like the idea of VC moving in tho but that’s just because I like VC, which does not translate to a viable business venture. On further consideration, I’m really beginning to like the idea of a bakery moving there ala Quality that once stood on Main St. It’s tough to find good fresh baked rolls around here.

    re: parking. There are free spots after 5p on weekdays and all day on weekends behind the Courthouse. There are also plenty of buses to service the 4th Ave store as well to encourage you to leave your car at home.

       —Robert S.    Oct. 2 '08 - 10:14PM    #
  30. Robert, you’re right about the parking at the current 4th Ave store – that’s what I was alluding to about ‘across the street’ parking.

    However, I beg to differ that you got “stiffed” on the “dividend checks”. First of all, they’re called “patronage rebates” – you get back any ‘profit’ the store makes in an amount commensurate with how much you spent at the co-op in the previous year (assuming you gave your member number at time of purchase). Some of that rebate was withheld, yes, to help pay for renovations and expansion, including the cafe – but you’ll still be getting it back. The co-op has up to five years to return that rebate to you. It’s a way for the co-op to raise needed expansion cash, essentially a loan payable to member/owners. This last year our board and GM opted not to withhold any rebate, as we didn’t have a specific project going. As well, retained rebates from 2003 were/are being paid out, just as next year any withheld from 2004 will be paid out.

    I like the idea of bringing back a bakery, such as Wildflower (which wasn’t part of the co-op). Big City Bakery at Miller and First has fresh baked goods, by the way, but not in quantity. I’m not sure how the co-op would do a European-style open market – someone would need to be prime developer of that, and it might be counter-productive to ask someone to take on a large lease, or buy, with the hope of attracting sub-vendors. Interesting idea, though.

    We’re acutely aware of all the competition in town – we have a market analysis underway at the moment, and provided a long list of potential competitors to the analyst (although I think we didn’t mention By The Pound – thanks for the tip). It may very well turn out that a second store downtown doesn’t make sense, even if we differentiate the stores enough to minimize cannibalization. But if we don’t look into it, we may miss golden opportunities, and run the risk of leaving it too late.

    Does Village Corner really serve as a grocery? Seems more like a booze shop with some snacks – but I haven’t been there in a few years.

       —Pete S.    Oct. 3 '08 - 08:00PM    #
  31. Will the People’s Food Coop expand its merchandise line if it opens up a second location or are the same products going to be continued to be sold at the Liberty Lofts?

       —Mark Koroi    Oct. 3 '08 - 09:08PM    #
  32. “Does Village Corner really serve as a grocery? Seems more like a booze shop with some snacks – but I haven’t been there in a few years.”

    Yeah, definitely more than just snacks—you should go take a look. It’s not the coop, but it’s a lot more than your average corner convenience store.

       —Bruce Fields    Oct. 4 '08 - 01:09AM    #
  33. regarding expanding product line —
    The PFC is owned by over 6,000 members. Product line is determined first by adhering to overall core values that give preference to local, organic, sustainable and fair trade goods that are healthy. The interpretation and actual purchasing of those items is left to the individual department managers to decide. There are also many mechanisms in place for members and non-member shoppers to give feedback and make suggestions. The store has been very limited by space.
    A larger location would certainly allow for expansion of product line, but don’t expect the Co-op to start carrying grocery items that are obviously in conflict with the healthy part. I know, we carry stuff that isn’t everyone’s idea of healthy now, but I think the Co-op does a good job of balancing the many many opinions people have about what is good food.

    Meat and fish were added because of strong member responses in surveys. I would expect that with added space the members would have a lot of input on what they would like to have added to the product line – and that the managers have heard plenty of great ideas over the years that they’ve been unable to implement. It is one of the reasons to consider a possible expansion.

    Information is being gathered, no decisions have been made. It will be a fairly open process, it is hard to keep a secret and also make sure all 6,000 plus members are informed!

       —Linda Diane Feldt    Oct. 6 '08 - 01:55AM    #
  34. I luuuuuuuuuuv the People’s Food Coop and I also like Cafe Verde. Will the newly proposed location have a coffee bar as well?

       —Kerry D.    Oct. 27 '08 - 05:02AM    #
  35. Do we have a timeframe when the People’s Food Co-op at the Liberty Lofts is expected to open?

       —John Dory    Nov. 2 '08 - 11:52PM    #
  36. Is there any progress on the possible leasing of the Liberty Lofts as a second People’s Food Co-op location?

       —Mark Koroi    Dec. 15 '08 - 08:45AM    #
  37. The numbers are coming in, the impact of the new Whole Foods is being weighed, as well as the general economic environment and projections.
    It makes sense to proceed very slowly and carefully. Taking on millions of dollars of debt right now in Michigan is certainly a sobering thought.
    So — slow but steady progress on the investigation part. And we are only in the investigation process. How much risk can the Co-op afford? Since the Co-op is member owned, the owners also need to have a say in that question.
    Interesting times. One thing is certain, rushing into anything would be a bad idea right now. Thanks for asking.

       —Linda Diane Feldt    Dec. 19 '08 - 08:27PM    #