Local grocery co-op quick growth

Garrett Kluever, Biz and Tech Editor

A new grocery co-op movement in Whitewater is quickly gaining attention.

The Whitewater Grocery Company will have its first annual owners meeting Oct. 25th. The co-operative surpassed its six month fundraising goal of $37,500 in three months.

The funds come from a $10,000 grant from Whitewater Community Development Authority (CDA) and ownership cost. Ownership is $150 to join the co-operative. Already over 260 community members have taken that responsibility.

The meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. at 841 Brewhouse, which is located at 841 E Milwaukee St,. Lacey Reichwald, one of the founding owners and chair of the co-op, looks forward to finally getting everyone together.

“This meeting is the first time all of our ownership will be in the same room since we started this,” Reichwald said.

The main topic for the owners meeting will be electing a board of directors. The co-op already has a steering committee, which Reichwald is a part of, but the co-op’s bylaws state that they must have a board of directors of seven people. Eleven people applied for the seven positions, and elections are currently ongoing amongst owners. The results will be announced at the meeting.

The co-operative does not currently have a location picked out, but that’s part of their long term business plan.

“The best location is the one where it will be the most successful,” Reichwald said. “We’re going to rely on some experts to tell us the pros and cons of all available locations and in the end it’s going to come down to a vote by the owners. So the more owners we have at the table for that, the more voices will be heard.”

According to the co-operative model the Whitewater Grocery Co. is following, they will need between 800 to 1000 owners to successfully open the store.

“For most models, it could take up to five years,” said Joanna Baker, a member of the steering committee for the co-operative. Baker looked at market studies for the co-operative as her capstone project senior year for her degree in Sustainability Management. She came up with a management plan based on owners numbers called the “cookbook”.

“There is a very specific ‘cookbook’ that we follow,” explains Baker.

Whitewater does not currently have a specific grocer. A Sentry store closed down in late 2015, and the only alternative has been the WalMart Supercenter, which is right next door to the closed building.

“A lot of people leave town to do their shopping,” Reichwald said. She feels that this leads to a downturn in business across the board by retail association.

“When people are going to Janesville or Fort Atkinson to do their grocery shopping, they are also going out to eat, buying hardware, or seeing movies. So a lot of our retail dollars are leaking out of the community,” Reichwald states.

Baker hopes the cooperative will provide a renewed sense of community for Whitewater.

“We hope for it to be a community gathering place eventually and build relationships,” Baker said.

If you would like to become an owner of Whitewater Grocery Co., visit their website whitewatergrocery.com under the Become an Owner tab.