Grocery co-operative outgrows its space

The business hopes to raise funds to move to larger surroundings.

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WALLA WALLA - A grocery cooperative that specializes in home-grown products may be taking root in a bigger space.

The Walla Walla Daily Market Cooperative, the community's member-owned alternative to chain grocery stores, is slated to move from its Main Street location to a space behind Someone's in the Kitchen at Fourth Avenue and Rose Street, operators say.

Planned for the end of May and contingent on fundraising, the proposed move is a sign of growing strength for the co-op that started in 2004.

Board President Matt Eppelsheimer said the co-op, currently at 508 E. Main St., has become a profitable operation due in large part to the Made in Walla Walla box program launched last year. The program offers a weekly selection of grocery staples all grown, raised or made locally. Subscribers pay for it at the beginning of the season and receive the boxes once a week over a period of months.

"That program demonstrates there's clearly a true demand for what we're selling," Eppelsheimer said. "We had known that before but could never really put it on paper."

The program's popularity has perhaps been a truer reflection of local demand for the co-op's services than its membership numbers. As part of a membership drive in 2007, co-op volunteers said they wanted 1,000 members before moving into an independent space for a grocery store. To date, there are about 230, Eppelsheimer said. He said the organization now hopes to have 115 more members in the next couple of months.

The move will require fundraising in the form of member/owner investments. He said the organization needs about $60,000 to make the move. Compared to major chains, the amount is scant, he said. But if the co-op can't get the investment it needs it may have to postpone the move.

Its current location is cost-free due to an agreement with landlord Whitman College and a tenancy with a private residential renter at the property. The arrangement has been ideal as far as saving costs on rent and utilities. But it's not as beneficial when it comes to hours of operation and expansion. The co-op doesn't operate regular evening or weekend hours and has a limited amount of space for inventory.

Without being able to grow the selection or reach customers during more traditional off-hours, the operation has been limited. But without having more money for a move that would remedy those things, it's also been unable to make the move.

"It's been this catch-22 where we haven't been able to grow out of that space because we can't afford the extra expense of rent and utilities," he said.

Details about the planned move were disseminated last week in meetings with members and interested participants. Eppelsheimer said the meetings were as focused on recruiting volunteers for the changeover as they were about sharing information. He said everything from labor to accounting work will be needed from members/volunteers for the transition.

If it all comes together as planned it should increase visibility for an operation on the grow.

"It will allow us to be closer to the farmers market right across the street, which will be great synergy in the summer and fall," Eppelsheimer said. "There's much greater capability for traffic, too."

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