Medford co-op leans toward site near downtown

By John Darling

for the Tidings

MEDFORD — In an informal vote Wednesday, supporters of the proposed Medford Food Co-op favored a site at Fir and Fourth streets for the store.

If the Spearco site isn't workable, members named the former Foodland on Stewart Avenue as a backup choice.

The balloting was advisory. The co-op's board of directors will choose among three sites sometime this month, said the organization's president, Medford attorney Jim Sims.

The big draw of the Spearco site, said Sims, is that it's a large but manageable 7,000 square feet and is close enough to downtown (on the edge of the Medford Urban Renewal Agency district), but far enough away to allow for easy access and parking and, most importantly, comes with an option to buy.

"With the other sites, we'd be renters as long as we were there," he said.

The board recently named three sites as finalists for locations for the co-op, which the group hopes to open in January. Along with the sites on Fir and Stewart, the group is considering the former Toys for the Home location at Bear Creek Plaza on Biddle Road.

In the straw balloting, owner members were asked to place two green sticky-dots on their top two of the three choices — and Spearco led Foodland 3-to-2.

However, board member John Miele said all three finalists are still in the running and the winner will be "whichever owner offers us the best deal — that's going to make the difference."

Board members will begin negotiating with owners next week, Miele said.

The choice will be based on which owner presents the best leasehold improvements, lowest startup costs and most affordable monthly costs, including maintenance.

The option to buy, Miele said, "could be the deal maker if everything else is more or less equal, both in the short and long term."

None of the three final sites has any substantial negatives, Sims said, noting that Foodland and the Bear Creek Plaza site are substantially larger than the target 7,000 to 9,000 square feet.

Spearco rent runs a reasonable 35 cents a square foot, he said. It also has a much-desired "stand-alone feel" with parking lot and space for shade trees and outdoor seating. But it's also the site requiring the most renovation, he added.

Owners of the larger sites have said they would partition off the co-op's required space, Sims said. Foodland, a former market, comes with $100,000 worth of checkout stands, freezers, coolers and computers still in place.

The co-op's dominate task is raising $500,000 in working capital by November, the bulk of it coming from investments by area merchants and vendors who would market their wares in the co-op, said Robin E. Brown, capital campaign director.

"The fundraising is going well and I feel, after the excitement of the meeting and the interest among business people, that we're absolutely going to raise the money," said Brown. "We're very aware of the local economy but that's what a co-op does, create jobs."

Said Sims, "We want the absolutely best opportunity for success over the first two years. The long term will take care of itself. The short term in any business is what's critical."

The sizeable fundraising over the next four months must be done with the understanding that full capitalization will be achieved by the community, not by banks, said Sims.

"Banks come in the picture when you're fully capitalized," he said.

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John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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