In this job, hardly a week goes by without a call from a commercial realtor or local poohbah pitching their development or town as “perfect” for the next Weavers Way.
Almost always, they’ve been to one of our stores, or they’ve read an article about us, or they have an eccentric friend or slightly loopy neighbor who’s a member and is constantly raving about us.
The overtures are always flattering, and I’m truly appreciative of their interest. And their interest is not unfounded: Quite simply, a neighborhood, town, or commercial development is enhanced by the presence of a natural foods store.
I’ve recently been shown two “community interest” surveys, one for a neighborhood in the city and one for a town in Montgomery County, in which residents were asked to list what would make theirs a better place to live.
Answers could be anything: green space, libraries, bowling alleys, etc. But the number-one answer in both surveys? Trader Joe’s.
A few years back, real estate research firm Attom Data Solutions concluded that homes were worth more money, and appreciated in value faster, the closer they were to a Trader Joe’s. Hey, who needs parks and libraries when you’re within walking distance of avocado yogurt and jars of spreadable cookie dough?
Yes, every community wants its very own Trader Joe’s. And when, inevitably, Trader Joe’s fails to return their phone calls, those communities wind up calling Weavers Way. It’s sort of like being second choice for a prom date.
Local realtors have understood the power of proximity for years. Their listings often include the phrase “Walk to Weavers Way Co-op” along with a house’s other amenities such as granite countertops, open floor plans and whatever else appeals to prospective home buyers these days.
Notwithstanding all this, my answer to inquiries about “the next Weavers Way” is always the same: We’re not expanding anytime soon.
For starters, we remain in full-out pandemic mode. Navigating the Co-op through the duration of the pandemic, until such time as COVID-19 is no longer a public health threat, will require our undivided attention. This is not the time for long-term planning.
We’re also in the midst of a business cycle in which we’re prioritizing paying down debt. This month, we will pay back our final Chestnut Hill member loans (10-year loans issued shortly after our Chestnut Hill store opened). Later this year, we will begin paying back the first round of our Ambler member loans (issued in 2016, about a year before we opened the Ambler store).
As our debt-to-equity ratio improves, we’ll be better positioned to borrow at some point in the future. Only then could expansion to a new store be given serious consideration.
Regardless of whether you consider future expansion a good or terrible idea, it would only be tied to meeting the needs of our members. So while places like Quakertown or Collingswood, NJ, might be great for a food co-op (or a Trader Joe’s), they are not locations for a future Weavers Way.
But if at some point we do consider opening a new store, there are three neighborhoods in which many Co-op members already reside, making them deserving of particular consideration.
Roxborough is already the home of our highly successful seasonal Farm Market at Saul High School, which we sometimes refer to as our “fourth store.” Between Roxborough, Manayunk, and East Falls, we have 650 member households on the west side of the Wissahickon.
We have 550 member households in Glenside, concentrated on the western part of the zip code, closer to Chestnut Hill, in neighborhoods such as Wyndmoor, Laverock and Custis Woods. Glenside has a surprising lack of natural food stores, though there’s a Whole Foods (and, yes, a Trader Joe’s) in nearby Jenkintown.
In Germantown, we have 930 member households. Most of those households are in the northwest corner of the Germantown zip code, north of School House Lane and west of Germantown Avenue. These households overwhelmingly shop in our Mt. Airy store, which was bursting at the seams before the era of social distancing and is now even less able to support member demand. A new store in Germantown would both support the needs of our members who live there and take pressure off of the Mt. Airy store.
For now, talk of expansion is just casual midsummer chit chat. Strategic planning must be conducted at a future time — post-pandemic — when we can give such a weighty matter the serious consideration it needs.
But that won’t stop folks from trying to woo us!
See you around the Co-op.