Like many small cities, Kingston’s urban core is something of a retail food desert. Grocery shopping on foot, and healthy, affordable options, weren’t easily available in Midtown. So a little over two years ago Katy Kondrat, manager of the Kingston Farmers’ Market and a longtime food systems activist, got together with smart stakeholders and made a plan.
Now that plan is being carried out. Coming soon to the former Honda building at 708 Broadway, 4,500 square feet of fresh produce, grocery staples, meat, dairy, bulk goods, wellness items, and pretty much everything you’d like to find at a mid-sized grocery store. Everyone will be able to shop there, but employees will be co-owners, and members will be invited to partake of especially great deals and promotions, and offer input about what’s on the shelves.
As the Kingston Co-op gets closer to opening its doors, we spoke to Kondrat to get the latest.
I see on your website that the co-op is moving into Stage Three of the development process, pre-construction. Part of which is design and starting the actual renovation of the building. How’s it going? What’s the day-to-day like right now?
It’s getting really real! We are heading into Stage Three now, so we will soon begin the design process, including hiring an architect, and forming a Building Committee from our membership. Because we are member-owned and we exist to serve our community, it’s really important to us that our design process is deeply informed by and intertwined with our diverse membership.
We are also going through a pretty big growth spurt as an organization—we are about to hire our second staff person, a Community Outreach Coordinator, and we are adding two new members to our Council (our Board of Directors).
We’re also just finishing our summer membership drive—we started at the beginning of July with 538 members, and we set a very lofty goal of adding 260 members to reach a total of 800 by the end of August. Our members are crucial to all of the upcoming steps for building our co-op, so we wanted to make sure that our membership base is broad, and reflects the City of Kingston. Right now about 10% of our members joined using our Solidarity Share Fund, which allows us to offer deeply discounted memberships.
How does the co-op plan to work toward transforming Kingston’s food system? What does that look like on the ground? Is part of that giving local growers and food producers a retail presence?
We are envisioning, with our members and other organizations, a city where everyone has easy access to good food, and the bounty of our agricultural region is available to everyone. Since we are still a little ways out from opening the store, we are working on developing some programs that will make good, affordable food readily available to folks before we open. More on those programs soon!
Part of our core values is to purchase from local farms and producers, especially prioritizing BIPOC farms in the region. When we’re open, we will have significant purchasing power that we hope to be able to leverage to support more farmers, while also being able to offer their high quality food at prices every family can afford.
What are some of the benefits to Kingston of having worker-owned cooperatives within the business community/economic ecosystem?
We are part of a new wave of food co-ops that are opening with a multistakeholder model, which means that we will have two “classes” or sets of owners: our members and our staff. When we open and have workers, they will have the option of becoming an owner of the co-op, which allows them to run for Council, elect representatives, and better advocate for their workplace needs. Workers who are also owners in a cooperative are more invested in the mission of the co-op, are paid better, stay on staff for longer, and have more decision making power than those who aren’t. We are proud of this, and can’t wait to open so our future staff can be owners too!
Why did the co-op join Hudson Valley Current, and how do you plan to use Currents at the co-op?
We were excited to join the Current because we see our co-op as a central part of Kingston’s food system once we open. As a multi-million dollar cooperative business, currency will be constantly flowing in and out of the store—when customers purchase their groceries with Currents, we can pay farmers and staff with Currents, and the money stays in our community forever. I imagine and hope that when we open, we will see an uptick in Current members because we will be able to offer another tangible way for people to see the Current in use.
How close are you to meeting your fiscal and membership goals to move forward with opening the physical store? A rough idea, I mean; I know it’s a fluid process. And how can we help?
We are on a really good trajectory! We have set a goal of reaching 800 members before we can start our design process, and as of the writing of this, we have 748 (when this article runs in September, I hope we’ll have reached 800 by then!). We will need 1,500 members by the time we open our store, and hiring our Outreach Coordinator will be crucial to helping us get there. Because we’re community-owned, we need owners (members)! Having a strong base of membership before we open means that we can head into the opening of the store with the backing of 1,500 Kingston area members.
The best way to support us is to talk about the co-op to your neighbors, ask us questions, and of course become a member! Members will have the benefit of being part of the opening process, and when we are open members share the co-op’s profits.