Common Ground Co-Op finds home in Urbana

By Melissa Silverberg

The Common Ground Food Co-Op in Champaign will relocate in July to Lincoln Square Village in Urbana. The co-op has been in the Champaign-Urbana community for 33 years as a provider of organic and locally grown food.

After three years of planning, Common Ground will be moving to a location twice the size of its current location, the basement of the Illinois Disciples Foundation.The Common Ground Food Co-Op in Champaign will relocate in July to Lincoln Square Village in Urbana. The co-op has been in the Champaign-Urbana community for 33 years as a provider of organic and locally grown food.

After three years of planning, Common Ground will be moving to a location twice the size of its current location, the basement of the Illinois Disciples Foundation, which general manager Jacqueline Hannah said she hopes will give the store more opportunities to serve the community.

The new store will have twice the amount of parking for customers and will be a full-service neighborhood grocery. A deli serving hot soups made with local ingredients, sandwiches and coffee, indoor and outdoor seating will be added to Common Ground’s services. Following the move, the store will also be increasing its hours and be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The new location will be “a destination for sharing good food and good community,” Hannah said.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing said that the co-op will fit in nicely with the area, especially in light of its proximity to the Urbana farmers’ market. The co-op and the farmers’ market are just two reasons that Urbana was recently named one of the top 10 ‘green’ communities in the United States according to Country Home magazine, she added.

Prussing said the co-op will “offer the public fine quality food at reasonable prices.”

At a press conference Friday, it was also announced that the co-op will be opening its doors to the general public rather than only to members as in the past. Customers will still have the choice to invest in the company with a one-time $60 fee that will allow them decision-making power for the future of the co-op as well as certain member-only discounts, Hannah said.

The co-op has about 1,400 members. By becoming a member, consumers are investing in their own community and showing that they are committed to a cause they feel is important, said Clint Popetz, president of the board of directors for Common Ground.

“Being open to the general public allows you to be have a broader place in the community,” he said. “There’s a lower barrier there so people can just come in and shop.”

Wade Franklin, general manager of Lincoln Square Village, said the new store is a natural fit for Urbana.

“We are happy and excited to work with them (the Co-Op),” Franklin said. “We welcome them to our home.”

While increasing profits was not the main reason for the relocation, Hannah said she does expect sales to double with the increased variety and quantity of products that will be available.

Ben Galewsky, a member of the board of directors for the Common Ground Food Co-Op, said financing for the project comes from a variety of sources. Along with loans from banks and cash reserves from past business years, the company also has a member-loan program. Under this program, members can invest money in the relocation like a loan and will receive interest and be paid back.

Urbana is also home to Strawberry Fields, a large organic and health food store. Hannah said she is not concerned with issues of competition between the businesses, but that any business dedicated to locally grown or organic food will further help the community.

“We wish them the best of luck in their relocation,” said Jack Wallace, Strawberry Fields general manager. “We have always had a friendly and cooperative relationship with them.”

But, Wallace also said it is difficult to tell how having two companies with common goals so near one another will affect each other’s business.

“I think they both serve a worthy purpose in the community and both serve the community well,” Wallace said.

As Common Ground prepares for the move, it continues to seek out new local farmers and providers of organic food to increase its stock and diversify its products, said Hannah.

“Common Ground’s mission is to promote local and organic foods, foster conscious consumerism and build community,” Hannah said. “We look forward to the opportunity our new Urbana location will give us to grow that mission and have a greater impact on the community.”