Renaissance Community Co-op ClosingBy Yasmine Regester / January 18, 2019
Members of the Renaissance Community Co-op’s (RCC) executive board recently announced the grocery store’s closing after being open a mere two years during a January 14 communty meeting held at the co-op, 2517 Phillips Ave. in Greensboro. The co-op’s executive board provided details to co-op owners and community members regarding why the store was closing. Executive board members say due to months of declining sales, the co-op was unable to bridge the gap between expenses and the revenue it brought in.
The RCC executive board, comprised currently of seven members, made the final decision to close the co-op after reviewing the finances. Some residents attending the meeting asked what could be done now to save the store, but board members said sales were too low to comtemplate a comeback.
“We didn’t produce enough sales to be profitable,” said Roodline Volcy, RCC executive board president.
A monthly sales chart from the co-op revealed that since the co-op’s inception, it never acquired enough revenue to make a profit. The sales also reveal that the co-op averaged between $40,000 and $90,000 in sales a month. The co-op needed to make at least $100,000 a month.
The creation of RCC, located in Northeast Greensboro, helped combat an 18-year food desert in the community when it opened in October 2016. Co-op members say that part of the co-op model was that it encouraged community wealth and ownership, totaling up to 1,300 member owners from all over Greensboro.
John M. “JJ” Jones, an RCC organizer, who has resided in Northeast Greensboro since 1971, said the closing was particularly painful for him.
“I didn’t want to come tonight because its painful. But I’m proud of each of you. We had a dream. Our dream became a reality,” said Jones, who is responsible for single-handedly recruiting the highest number of co-op members.
Co-op member, Leo B. Steward, added he would stop by the store two to three times a week to assist in bagging groceries and talk to customers.
“I’ve lived in Greensboro for 22 years and the Winn-Dixie left about six months after I arrived. This was a dream come true,” said Steward.
Two community groups, the Concerned Citizens of Northeast Greensboro (CCNG) and Citizens for Environmental and Economic Justice (CEEJ) joined together to build and promote economic growth in the area. District 2 Councilmember Goldie Wells, who helped lead CEEJ in the closing of White Street Landfill, told community members to be proud of what was accomplished.
“We fought the landfill twice. We have come a long way despite what we’re facing,” Wells said to Monday night’s crowd.“I want you all to encourage yourselves. We’re not giving up. There will be a grocery store. African Americans, we can do it ourselves. Let’s not give up and be proud of what we did accomplish.”
The community-owned grocery store was a vision of Northeast Greensboro residents who were without a grocery store for nearly two decades after Winn-Dixie grocery store left the shopping center. The community partnered with Durham-based lender Self-Help Ventures Fund, the City of Greensboro and Funds 4 Democratic Communities (F4DC) to secure funding for the project.
F4DC subsidized the co-op with funds which helped sustain the store for as long as it did. RCC board leaders say F4DC had contributed $990,000 in grants and investments to the co-op since 2016. F4DC offered an additional $1.1 million for 2019, but the executive board said the store still would not be able to sustain itself if sales did not improve. The store currently owes nearly $1 million in debt to lenders.
Jada Dunn, RCC bookkeeper and assistant store manager thanked the community for providing jobs with livable wages and healthcare benefits to the employees.
“It saddens me that the RCC is coming to a close. Without the RCC, a lot of us wouldn’t have the opportunities for advancement that this job offered us. It gave us a comfortable place to work and gave us a chance to grow and learn,” said Dunn.
The RCC will also hold a job fair to help assist former store employees and community members in finding employment. All final proceeds from the store will go to providing severance packages to the current 18 employees, ranging from 4-8 weeks of salary, and towards paying off the store’s debt.
The City of Greensboro issued a statement after the co-op announced the closing, saying the city will continue to work with Self-Help to bring the community medical, food and banking services. The Renaissance Shoppes on Phillips still house a healthcare clinic, bank, and Family Dollar.
“While their doors have closed, it’s important to keep the Co-op’s legacy alive. The need for access to healthy food options is paramount for all Greensboro residents. The efforts of the Co-op serve as an example of community collaboration to improve the quality of life of its residents,” the statement read.
The RCC board also indicated they would like to leave the store equipment and fixtures in the store as long as possible, in hopes of attracting another grocer sooner than later.
Although the store will close at the end of this month, the legal entity of RCC will not be disbanded. The RCC board plans to call another community meeting in February to discuss the future of the community coalition.
Co-op board member Casey Thomas said that the take away should not be that community ownership does not work or because of the community the store opened in.
“The take-away from this should be that we can do things for our communities and build community wealth,” said Thomas.