Bethlehem Food Co-op plans to open its grocery store in 2022

Written by on March 23, 2021

Bethlehem Food Co-op plans to open its grocery store in 2022

By Brad Klein

March 23, 2021

The site of the future Bethlehem Food Co-Op grocery store at 250 East Broad Street on Bethlehem’s northside. Photo | Courtesy of Bethlehem Food Co-Op

After years of planning, the Bethlehem Food Co-Op has announced plans to open a community-owned grocery store. It will take up the first floor of a building going up at 250 East Broad Street in Bethlehem. WLVR’s Brad Klein speaks with Kelly Allen, the chair of the Co-op and a professor at Northampton Community College. 

Listen to the story.

Brad Klein

“Thank you for joining us.”

Kelly Allen

“Thank you, Brad. It’s great to be here.” 

Klein

“I know it’s been a long process, stretching back maybe 10 years or so. Tell me about the goals for establishing the Bethlehem Food Co-op.” 

Allen

“It exists on many different levels. I think probably at the forefront is dealing with issues of food access. But intersecting with that, we’re also dealing with issues of food  sovereignty and also working to strengthen our local food economy.”

Klein

“What is food sovereignty? Do you mean the source where your foods are coming from?”

Allen

“When we’re talking about food sovereignty, we’re talking about all of the food needs of an individual and community. These are influenced by food culture, economics, and  certainly dealing with race and geography and issues like that.” 

Klein

“Got it. 

“How will the co-op itself operate? Can you tell me a little about that? Will anyone be able to shop there or just members?” 

Allen

“Yes, absolutely. The co-op is there as a resource for everyone in the Bethlehem community. You do not have to be a member shop there. The benefits of being a member are that you have a voice in how the co-op is operated. But also another benefit to being a member is, once we are generating a profit, members will receive member dividends.”

Klein

“How many members are there now? And how many are you looking for once the operation is really going?” 

Allen

“As of this morning, we’re at 845 member households and our target for ribbon cutting is 1,200 plus.”

Klein

“Wow, that shows a lot of community support.” 

Allen

“Yes, the purpose of these target numbers mostly has to deal with finances. As a startup co-op we don’t have loads of money at our disposal. So in order to raise the equity through member loans, and then also to qualify for bank loans, we need to show that we have that community support.”

Klein

“That raises an important question: There’s still money to be raised. It’s not cheap to outfit a grocery store, I imagine. How much do you need to raise and how will you raise it?” 

Allen

“We need to raise $1.7 million and that money is going to be raised through member loans and member gifts. 

“And then we’re also going to work with our community partners for naming right opportunities. Those naming rights span anywhere between having names on bricks along walkways or like naming our kitchen, so that’s going to be the bulk of our capital campaign fundraising effort.”

Klein

“And do you have an opening day scheduled at this point?” 

Allen

“What we’re looking at is a ribbon cutting in 2022. Now, I am not a general contractor. As you said, I teach. But what I’ve been told is that if all things go well, that it generally would take a general contractor to build a site like what we’re looking at, about 18 months.” 

Klein

“Got it.

“Well, let’s end with a big picture question. I mean, obviously, this is more than just a store . It’s a community. It’s a cause in its own way. Let me ask you how the co-op fits into the Lehigh Valley’s food culture, if it’s fair to say that.” 

Allen

“How long do we have?” 

Klein

“We have just another 30 seconds.” 

Allen

“I think the best way to frame this is, as many of us know, unfortunately, in South Bethlehem, Ahart’s market is closing. And what we’re seeing right now in real time is the impact that a grocery store has on a community. And what we aim to do with the Bethlehem Food Co-op is to make sure that we are constantly stoking those fires in regards to community awareness of the impact that a grocery store can have on a local community.” 

Klein

“Well, there will be plenty of time for the small questions about salted versus unsalted almonds and the like, but it’s nice to hear a big, ambitious cause like that. Thanks so much for joining us.” 

Allen

“Thank you so much for having me, I really appreciate it.”

Klein

“Kelly Allen is the chair of the Bethlehem Food Co-op. He teaches literature and food studies at Northampton Community College, where he is also the coordinator of the NCC East 40 Community Garden.”

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