Renaissance Co-op opens, filling considerable void

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It’s finally here.

After almost 15 years of waiting, this stretch of northeast Greensboro along Phillips Avenue is — at long last — home to a grocery store again.

To an outsider it might not sound like much; there’s neighborhood in Winston-Salem where three compete, and plenty of Greensboro residents have no problem dropping in at a Harris Teeter or Food Lion. But Guilford is a county with more than a dozen food deserts, with a consistently high food hardship rate, and this is a section of the city with not much else going for it when it comes to fresh food.

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That’s why residents organized to form the Renaissance Community Co-op, a cooperatively run grocery store behind McGirt-Horton Library. But hopefully you know the basics of that story by now. You should; it’s one of the best examples of successful community organizing in this area, and there’s already a similar attempt being planned in Winston-Salem.

According to food researcher and UNCG associate professor Marianne LeGreco, the Renaissance Co-op actually knocks out two food deserts in one shot, making it all the more important.

The cooperative celebrates its grand opening this weekend, but the store actually launched a few weeks ago. There were still a couple of kinks to sort out that first week, of course — employees learning codes for produce and differentiating between the organic versions of things, and a cooler that remained un-stocked — but all I could think about as I sat at a counter space eating lunch from the hot line in the back is how amazing it is that this is a reality.

I watched an employee picking up litter in the parking lot outside, a lot that’s been landscaped and redone as part of a bigger investment surrounding the grocery. I recalled coming to the shopping center years ago, with its busted-up sign, somewhat janky parking lot and empty storefront. I thought of the gas station quickie marts I’d passed west of there on Phillips Avenue, the only accessible food for plenty of residents in this area. I considered the fight to keep the White Street Landfill closed to municipal solid waste — a battle waged by many of the same people who built the co-op after the city had promised never to reopen the environmental hazard.

I’ve seen plenty of changes in Greensboro in my decade of living here. But as I sat there, eating some semi-sweet barbecue, a couple delicious meatballs and some slightly overcooked spaghetti, I couldn’t think of any accomplishment more significant or positive than this grocery store.

The Renaissance Co-op is a little smaller than Trader Joe’s in Winston-Salem or Deep Roots in downtown Greensboro, though it’s bigger than Deep Roots was back when it was on Spring Garden Street. There’s a large produce section, right near the front, filled with fresh looking vegetables at affordable prices.

Some of the items on the shelves were new to me, like Shasta ginger ale for less than a dollar, and they were new to people shopping around me, too. One man, taking it all in with some friends or colleagues, marveled that the $3.77 packs of 12 toilet paper rolls were priced cheaper than the ones he buys at Walmart. Premade sandwiches in the back go for as cheap as $4, and the hot bar — though limited — is just $7 per pound.

A spin through the hot bar.
A spin through the hot bar.

Like Deep Roots, they’ll ask you if you’re an owner at check out, and there are a couple products such as Equal Exchange coffee that would be at home in Whole Foods. But for the most part, the Renaissance Coop is designed to serve the community it’s in, providing good, fresh food that’s healthy and cheap.

Few things could be more important. That’s part of the reason I trekked across the city to eat lunch there, and picked up some of that cheap toilet paper, too. I’ll be back to shop at the Renaissance Coop again, even though there are at least three grocery stores closer to my home, because I can. And the budding business needs all the support it can get.

 

Visit the Renaissance Community Co-op at 2517 Phillips Ave. (GSO) or go to renaissancecoop.com to learn more about becoming a member.

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  • Andy Stevens

    So, how has the fresh produce sales been? How much has been spoiled and discarded? What is the shrinkage? Questions that will go to the heart of whether or not this store, heavily subsidized as it is, can survive.

  • DavidW

    “A co-operative is an autonomous association of persons united voluntarily to meet their common economic, social, and cultural needs and aspirations through a jointly-owned and democratically-controlled enterprise.” This definition from the International Cooperative Alliance clearly shows how ownership power can lead to more economic democracy when the community embraces cooperative enterprise as a solution.

    All the people who joined and invested in this business venture can call themselves “job creators,” to borrow a term from Reagan. Now, they just have to keep getting better and growing so that they can keep their Co-op grocery store, and meet the challenges of any business owner. I wish them luck!