It may be nothing more than a barren dirt lot now, but in about a year’s time the parcel along one of north Bethlehem’s busiest thoroughfares will be home to a community market that has been more than a decade in the making.
A groundbreaking ceremony was held Thursday, May 5 for the new building at 250 E. Broad Street that will house the long-anticipated Bethlehem Food Co-op; a community-owned store that co-op board chair Carol Ritter said now has more than 1,115 members.
In addition to the co-op board, representatives from Peron Development and Boyle Construction were in attendance for the groundbreaking, along with Bethlehem mayor J. William Reynolds, several members of Bethlehem City Council, state Rep. Steve Samuelson (D-135) and U.S. Rep. Susan Wild (D-7).
Wild was instrumental in securing $2.9 million in federal funding that former Bethlehem mayor John Callahan–who is employed by Peron–said will help it become “the first co-op in the U.S. to open without debt.”
“She never forgot us,” said an emotional Ritter of Wild and her assistance in securing the grant, which will be administered by the City of Bethlehem on the co-op’s behalf to assist with the build-out and stocking of the 6,300 square-foot, full-service grocery store.
And for those who think the Bethlehem Food Co-op will simply be another supermarket, Ritter had this to say: “We’re not even close to being just a grocery store.”
She highlighted the co-op’s Community Hubs program, which is a partnership with local schools, as well as its Membership for All initiative that addresses income inequalities and how they can affect families’ access to fresh food.
A new $300,000 Community Investment Fund initiative by the co-op will support education and the Membership for All scholarship programs, as well as the initial operations of the store, a news release about the groundbreaking said.
The co-op wouldn’t be well on its way to becoming a brick-and-mortar reality without the vision that was inspired by city resident and Save the Kales blogger Jaime Karpovich, who was also there to participate in the momentous occasion. It was Karpovich who more than a decade ago documented her frustration when “she couldn’t find a red pepper in this town without getting in a car,” Ritter recalled. That helped get the co-op ball rolling.
Wild noted that the co-op’s location near downtown Bethlehem will bring groceries back into the center of the city–which is a near-food desert–and will help revitalize a block of E. Broad Street that hasn’t seen the investment that blocks closer to Main Street have.
The mixed use building that will house the co-op at ground level will be four stories tall and contain approximately 40 one- and two-bedroom apartments, whose lessees will receive complimentary memberships to the co-op, which has signed a 10-year lease.
“I can’t imagine living above the co-op and not being a member,” said Callahan, who said the entire project is estimated to cost approximately $10 million.
Ritter said to expect rebranding from the co-op, which is now in the process of transitioning from being a grassroots organization to an actual store, and also took the opportunity to introduce board member Todd Mertz as the co-op’s new chairman of diversity, equity and inclusion.
“We want to be a good neighbor here,” she told groundbreaking attendees, adding that the Bethlehem Food Co-op’s goal is to be the biggest, best co-op in the state at a time when there is a movement to establish more community-owned markets in Pennsylvania.
Ritter said the organization’s goal is to have at least 1,250 members by the time the store opens in the spring of 2023.
To learn more about the Bethlehem Food Co-op and become a member, visit BethlehemFood.coop.