Sophie Bolich

Letter Warns of Possible Riverwest Co-op Closure

Changes in the food industry and COVID-19 challenges have caused hardships for the 20-year-old business.

By - Jun 18th, 2022 09:37 am
Riverwest Co-op. Photo By Sophie Bolich

Riverwest Co-op. Photo By Sophie Bolich

Without major changes, Riverwest Co-op & Cafe may have to close permanently by September, warned a letter issued by co-op’s board of directors.

The co-op, 733 E. Clarke St., is a grocery store and restaurant that opened in 2001. The letter was sent Friday to email subscribers.

At a June 4 meeting, the board and coordinators created a timeline and investigated ways to cut costs and generate revenue. One possibility would be to temporarily close the cafe connected to the co-op and rent out the space.

Other options could include: new loans, focused advertising campaigns, pausing member discounts, a member loan program, a fundraising campaign or new partnerships.

Also being considered: changes in prices and hours of operation. The board will meet again Monday to further discuss these options. The board consists of Debbie Powers, president, Karen Reynolds, vice president. Wendy Mesich, treasurer, Carolyn Weber and Tyler Rudzinski.

A finalized plan of action will be announced in July at an “emergency general membership meeting,” according to the letter.

The convenience and price point of conventional grocers may be factors in drawing business away from the co-op. A Pick ‘n Save grocery store on Garfield Avenue is less than a mile away.

The co-op was doing well in 2016 after two years of “great profit,” said Mesich, who is also the co-op’s volunteer coordinator. The extra money went to building up a savings account and reinvesting in the store.

Since then, changes in the food industry have caused challenges for the store. COVID-19 also delivered a blow. Prior to the pandemic, the co-op had as many as 100 weekly volunteers. During the peak months, only a few at a time could safely enter the building.

“It was hard to find community during those peak covid years,” said Mesich. “That’s what we thrived on, community. The ideas, the energy, the word of mouth that comes with 100 people volunteering in your organization.”

The co-op issued a similar message in March, which resulted in four new committee members and more than 20 store and cafe volunteers. There was also a 23% increase in sales from February to April.

There are currently four open positions on the board. The co-op is also seeking to fill staff positions and bring on 50 more volunteers.

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