Medford Food Co-op nears deal to lease building

After a years-long search, the Medford Food Co-op is poised to sign a lease to open a store in a nearly 9,000-square-foot building on South Riverside Avenue, raising hopes that a location will rejuvenate fundraising.

"The two most appealing things about the site is its co-op feel and the conditions of the agreement," said Jim Sims, co-op president. "It doesn't have the feel of a corporate factory farm food store. It feels like a community-organized food store right from the outset. The other appealing part is the financial terms."

As part of the agreement, building owner Batzer Construction Inc. would design and complete $250,000 in renovations on the building at 945 S. Riverside Ave., which will have to be gutted and revamped on the inside, co-op board members said. The building is on the east side of Riverside, about a block north of the point where South Pacific Highway splits into Riverside and Central avenues.

Board members said the monthly rent would be thousands of dollars less than other locations they had considered.

Russ Batzer, president of Batzer, declined to divulge the exact amount of the rent.

"It's a business deal, but we are definitely behind the Medford co-op," Batzer said. "Everybody in my family likes to know where their food comes from and is health conscious. We are all for it, and this was a nice opportunity to help them."

Batzer and the co-op board began negotiating for the property about a month ago, Batzer said. The property has been vacant for about a year and a half and had been listed for lease — or for sale at $1 million — Batzer said. The co-op would have an option to buy, he said.

The building's tenants have changed from Rudolph's restaurant to Asante Health System offices to, most recently, a day care center called Stepping Stone Academy.

The deal won't be final until co-op members vote in favor of it and the co-op raises enough capital to open.

A members' meeting to vote on the lease is scheduled for 6 p.m. Friday, May 14, at the Medford Library, 205 S. Central Ave.

Under the terms of the agreement, the co-op must have its capital in place by July 1 for renovations to move forward, but Batzer said he would work with the board if the co-op is unable to raise the funds in time.

The co-op still needs to raise nearly $500,000 more to pay the expenses involved in opening the store, including buying equipment and merchandise, paying for utilities, insurance and hiring employees, Sims said. That's on top of the more than $100,000 the co-op has already raised through purchased shares, promissory notes and donations, he said.

"Half of that (the $500,000) is just to buy food to sell to customers," Sims said.

Co-op organizers are hopeful that securing a location will be an incentive for more people to invest and for investors to contribute more money.

John Miele, a co-op board member, said a few investors have offered to contribute between $5,000 and $25,000 once the co-op has secured a location.

Board members said they plan to contact existing members and ask for larger investments as well as try to recruit more investors from their list of people who have said they would be interested when the co-op opens.

Some preliminary design sketches by Batzer architect Gary Caperna have already been completed for the South Riverside site.

They were presented to the co-op board May 6, Sims said.

The building sits on 1.2 acres and has about 50 parking spaces. There is room for expansion on the property, both in the square footage of the building and the number of parking places, Batzer said.

The vision of the co-op is to provide a community-owned market offering organic, local and free-trade foods.

"We are just looking forward to it opening," Batzer said. "How could it not be good for the community?"

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Paris Achen is a reporter for the Mail Tribune. Reach her at 541-776-4459 or e-mail

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