Plans are underway to expand the Dill Pickle Food Co-op (@dillpicklecoop, 3039 W. Fullerton Ave.) from its current 1,300-square-foot-storefront to a new, larger space. The new location ideally would feature dedicated vehicle and bicycle parking and closer proximity to CTA trains.
While a new location has not yet been chosen, the Board of Directors hopes to relocate within one mile of the current storefront to a larger space that is around 8,000 square feet.
The board has been planning to expand the Dill Pickle Food Co-op for years. When the co-op first opened in 2009, it had 500 member-owners. Today, that figure is closer to 1,300 and growing. A previous expansion plan was scrapped because its scale was too small. As sales and member-ownership grow, the board recognized its need to drastically increase in size.
“We’ve been busting from the seams since the day we opened,” says Sharon Hoyer, the store’s general manager.
Plans to Grow Get Official
The board decided last fall to go ahead with the expansion. Kevin Monahan, current president of the board of directors, says that the need to expand was “well-understood early on by both the staff and the board.” So far, the plans have included a market study and discussions with consultants to determine the scope of the expansion. The co-op is currently in the feasibility stage, searching for potential locations and securing lenders.
The board is looking for locations for Dill Pickle Co-op’s new location that would transform the storefront into a more community-oriented and consumer-friendly space. While the current sales floor is stocked with quality food and wares, the shelves fill up quickly and the aisles are narrow.
“Even such a simple task as stocking the shelves became a challenge for customers trying to navigate down the aisle,” says Betsy Martens, a member-owner of the co-op.
The expansion will likely quadruple the size of the sales floor and provide some extra room to improve the customer experience.
The added sales floor will also allow a wider range of products, such as fresh prepared food, a deli, fresh meat and a salad bar. Hoyer says that not only will this broaden the offerings of the Dill Pickle Food Co-op, but it will also allow for them to “take advantage of the economy of scale” and negotiate with vendors to lower prices of existing products.
From an operations standpoint, the addition of an office would supplement staff, who currently work at a small table in the back of the storefront. A walk-in refrigeration unit would make it possible for fresh meat and perishables to be stored and sold in higher quantities.
Perhaps the most exciting potential development is the ability to expand the co-op’s community programs. Both staff and board members are dedicated to offering educational events, cooking demos, school tours, classes and other programs related to health, nutrition and wellness. A multipurpose community space would, as Martens says, offer “a way to involve a broader constituency within our diverse community of Logan Square and beyond.”
By extending its community programming, lowering prices and maximizing accessibility, Monahan hopes the Dill Pickle Food Co-op will be able to fulfill its mission of providing local, sustainable and fair trade goods and fostering a vibrant community.
While Hoyer cautions that the co-op is still searching for locations, she describes their timeline for the project as “aggressive” and hopes to complete the expansion in about a year.
Support the Co-op during the Transition
Those who would like to support the co-op’s expansion have a number of options, including shopping at the current storefront. Martens also encourages Logan Square neighbors to consider becoming member-owners. Member-owners receive a 5 percent discount on all purchases, and have a say in the Board elections, bylaws and significant decision-making.
“The chief benefit of being a member-owner is being a part of making it happen. The Dill Pickle is a shining example of an active, growing, changing community endeavor,” Martens says, adding that the expansion is fertile ground for progressive development of the co-op.
The Board of Directors recently launched its member-owner campaign to raise owner loans. They are also reaching out to commercial lenders. These lenders include non-traditional and community-oriented lending institutions, such as the Chicago Community Loan Fund (@cclfchicago).
Investing in the Dill Pickle Co-op is not just a smart financial move for individuals, but healthy move for the neighborhood, according to Monahan.
“We have an asset in our community that we own,” he says. “It’s a place that feeds us, where we can meet people and exchange ideas. We need to invest into our asset to make it strong.”