A grocery in downtown Athens? There's already one. And if things go the way supporters hope, it will only get bigger and more competitive with the corporate stores in town.
After 10 years of talking, those who run Daily Groceries Co-op are changing how the Prince Avenue institution does business. The earlier arrangement allowed people to join the co-op, and, in many cases, to volunteer in various capacities throughout the store in order to receive a discount on their purchases.
According to board president Delene Porter, people will now have a chance to buy a share of the store but won't receive a discount. Each share is $100.
"Having shares will increase people's involvement," Porter said. "We can reinvest the money in Daily, and in the community. Shareholders can have a say in how that money is reinvested."
There are some 200 people who are members of the co-op under the system that has been in place for 20 years. Porter is hoping that 3,000 or more people will buy shares, thereby becoming owner-members. She believes the Athens community is more engaged with buying local and interested in doing so, so the time for making a switch to patronage seemed right.
Store manager Andrea Malloy began working at Daily Groceries in October 2011. She said board members and she have looked at several co-ops around the country and studied how they operate. She visited Three Rivers Co-op in Knoxville and New Leaf in Tallahassee, talking to people involved in those successful operations.
In the late 1990s, she said, people across the country came together and began professionaling the industry. Co-ops moved to the patronage model in order to be sustainable and to compete with the big grocery stores.
"The discount system gave away profits before we made them," Malloy said. "We decided it had to change."
The store now has paid cashiers instead of volunteers. Malloy said she recently hired four people. There is also a paid produce staff, as well as a deli staff and a buyer for the entire store. Some people work four days a week, but Malloy and Porter say the store is are moving to having 40-hour a week jobs that pay well.
A paid staff will lead to more consistancy and better customer service, they say. Local farmers can sell their produce and others their products in the store seven days a week, if they choose. There's no plan for them to ship their produce to a central distribution in another state, as some larger stores mandate.
And in bumper years, says Porter, investors could even receive a patronage dividend check.
"We’re owned by the community," Malloy said. "A co-op is answerable to its owners. This is the answer to a downtown grocery. This is us creating a structure to make that happen."
A pdf with more details about patronage is attached to this story.