Store sites under review for Medford Food Co-op

Store sites under review for Medford Food Co-op

Community organizers who want to open a Medford food cooperative in what is believed to be the largest city in the Pacific Northwest without one are seeking feedback on three proposed store sites.

The Medford Food Co-op board remains in negotiations with the owners of the three sites: the former Foodland on Stewart Avenue in southwest Medford, the Spearco building at Fourth and Fir streets downtown and Bear Creek Plaza on Biddle Road in northeast Medford.

"I am pushing them to make us the offer we can't refuse," said Jim Sims, board president.

Other than securing a good deal for the co-op space, the group has to raise $500,000 in order to open the co-op by Jan. 1.

Organizers continue to raise money and garner feedback from residents on their preferences for a location. They won't disclose how much they've raised so far in order to protect their interests in negotiations.

A co-op fundraiser is planned for 7 p.m. Oct. 3 at Grilla Bites at 226 E. Main St. in Medford. Admission is $15, and all of the proceeds, except for $350 for a band, will go toward the co-op, Sims said. Grilla Bites is donating the food, and local wines will be available for tasting.

Admission is waived for attendees who buy a $100 or higher membership at the door. Members do not have to be Medford residents.

Sketches of each location by Medford-based OgdenRoemerWilkerson Architecture will be on display at the event.

"That's really going to be the final opportunity the public has to make their opinion known to us," Sims said.

He said he hopes the board will decide on a location by mid-October.

Medford is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest without a food co-op, according to a summer 2007 market study by Pete Davis, a natural food location research consultant in Port Townsend, Wash. He defined the Pacific Northwest as Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

The effort to fill that gap began about three years ago with a vision to provide a community hub in Medford offering local and organic produce and products, modeled after the Ashland Co-op.

About 20 percent of the Ashland Co-op customers hail from Medford.

"That means we have a built-in customer base," Sims said. "Becoming a member of the Medford co-op will pay back in dividends and also in not having to make that drive to Ashland."

There are about 1,200 members of the Medford co-op so far.

In an informal vote July 16 by supporters, a majority favored the 7,000-square-foot Spearco site because of the location downtown, stand-alone structure and an option to eventually buy the building. The Foodland site came in second.

Foodland could have financial advantages because it is already outfitted with shelves, freezers and other equipment the co-op would otherwise have to buy. In addition, Unified Grocers, which operated the old Foodland grocery store, has a lease on the building through 2012. As a result, subletting the 9,000-square-foot space could bring free rent to help the co-op get established. Its main drawback is competing grocery stores in the area.

The Bear Creek Plaza option brings in more foot traffic but doesn't project the image the co-op aspires to, Sims said. At 10,000 square feet, it also is larger than what the co-op needs.

In the past two years, co-op members have considered about 20 possible locations, narrowing them down to the final three in July.

Locations were scored on the following criteria: no more than 1 mile from the center of town, at least 50 parking spaces, 7,000 square feet of retail space and cost.

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Reach reporter Paris Achen at 776-4459 or e-mail

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