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“If there is a way to build a successful, profitable business selling food to people in Northeast Greensboro, then we can figure it out. We can build it ourselves, and keep the jobs and the profit in the neighborhood.” -Ed Whitfield, co-Director of the Fund for Democratic Communities

When the Bessemer Center’s Winn-Dixie supermarket shut its doors in 1998, the community in Northeast Greensboro was left without a place to buy healthy food. For sixteen years, the many residents nearby without access to a car were forced to take a bus to another store three miles away, or choose from the limited selection of food offered at local convenience stores. Instead of waiting for some outside agent to address the issue, the community decided it would come together to open its own grocery coop.

The Renaissance Community Coop will be a full service grocery store that offers healthy food options at a price the surrounding community can afford. As a coop, the store will be owned by the people who shop there, and they will help decide how to reinvest the store’s profits. This will, say organizers, help the community’s wealth stay in the community.

A recent study from the Food Labor Research Center details how food retail workers’ wages and working conditions have steadily declined over the past two decades, even though the industry as a whole has thrived. Bucking these trends, the coop will strive to create good jobs for members of the community. It plans to have roughly twenty employees, pay a living wage, and provide health care for its full-time staff.

There are many proposed solutions to food deserts out there, but few put ownership of the solution in the hands of the affected community. The idea for the coop emerged through conversations between community leaders and the Fund for Democratic Communities. The project gained momentum when Self-Help Credit Union agreed to provide some financial backing. They have already raised over a $1 million of the $1.79 million that they’ll need to open the store. They have lined up a few more potential funding sources, but are hoping that ownership sales, member loans and their crowdfunding campaign will provide enough support to put them over the edge.

Renovations to the shopping center are already underway, and the Renaissance Community Coop will open its doors sometime in the second half of 2015.