Common Ground Food Co-op opens new wing

Since opening its doors four years ago in the Lincoln Square Mall, Common Ground Food Co-op has tripled in sales, leading to the construction of a new wing that opened Wednesday.

For now, all groceries have been moved to the new wing, but the store’s expansion will be complete in October, when the wall separating the old and new wings is torn down.

Common Ground is a consumer-owned company with 3,000 owners who have a share in the business. The business provides the community with fresh food choices, mainly from local farmers.

Marketing manager Joy Rust said in 2008, the co-op was paid local farmers a collective amount of $115,000.

Now, with increasing popularity and community support, revenue from the renovation is expected to reach about $900,000, which will be paid to local farmers, Rust said.

Last fall alone, Common Ground Food Co-op raised $1 million in loans from their owners, said Kristi Emilsson, grocery manager.

“We were amazed,” Emilsson said. “That’s a million dollars from people that believe this business is a profitable business they want to be a part of.”

The new wing includes classrooms, so the community can participate in free cooking classes and provide extra in-store seating for the espresso and salad bar. Room for storage was also part of the addition.

“I’m really excited for our community kitchen,” Rust said. “We’ll have cooking classes for free and for a cost, as well as other classes, like canning classes, classes on raising chickens and eating healthy on a budget.”

Customer Jan Kalmar has been involved in the co-op for about 30 years and said the renovation is continuing to bring jobs to the community.

“The renovation has made the co-op not only stable but introduced a beautiful model of doing business for local organic systems,” Kalmar said.

Common Ground Food Co-op also gives back to the community through events and through a round-up service offered at the register. As part of the service, customers can round up the total of their change at the register and donate the difference to a nonprofit.

“You think about how much money Wal-Mart or Shnucks makes, and then the number of people that are benefited by that money being invested locally and having local returns,” Emilsson said.

Although older community members make up most of the demographic that shop at the co-op, some University students, such as Patrick Heddins, senior in AHS, also choose to shop at the co-op.

“The quality of the ingredients in the food is exceptional, and I like to support local farms,” said Heddins, who has been a patron for two years.

With the expansion of knowledge about healthy eating and the benefits of supporting local farmers, business is better than ever, Emilsson said.

“This is a co-op that four years ago was in a basement of a church, and here we are now,” Emilsson said.