Chatham Marketplace - Pittsboro, NC

Project Sector: 
Food Co-ops

Vital Statistics

Began Operations: Spring 2006
Jobs Created: 20 FTE, 10 PTE
Store Square Footage: 5,000 sq. ft. total
Retail Space: 3,800 sq. ft.
Current Members: 1,150
Projected Year End Members: 1,750

Before Chatham Marketplace opened its doors this spring (2006), residents of Pittsboro, North Carolina had to make the 30-mile round trip to the Weaver Street Market, a consumer and worker-owned food co-op in nearby Chapel Hill, to purchase natural and organic foods. And many of them did.

“There are a lot of progressive people in Pittsboro and with residential growth in the rural community, we felt there was a market for a cooperative grocery store,” says Melissa Frey, Marketing/Owner Services coordinator for the new store. “This community was unique in that we had a growing number of small, local growers along with the large, residential growth of a bedroom community, and it seemed like a good recipe for a co-op.” Pittsboro is located approximately 30 miles west of Raleigh, North Carolina and 15 miles south of Chapel Hill.

Frey had volunteered at the Weaver Street Market for 11 years, making the 30 mile round trip drive. During the group’s early start-up period, Weaver Street Market personnel helped them with a market analysis for the proposed new co-op. As things progressed, they urged Frey’s group to get in touch with CDS’s food co-op consultants to provide the experience and guidance needed to bring their project to the next level.

“We thought we had enough expertise within the board and community to get the job done,” says Tami Schwerin, Chatham’s board president and part of the original organizational group. Now, Schwerin acknowledges, “Choosing CDS helped make us successful.”

“What we thought was a quarter of a million dollar project turned out to be a million dollar project,” Frey says, describing how CDS helped them to set fundraising, ownership and sales goals. “It was a reality check for us.” A consultant also helped them choose the new store’s location in a renovated historic mill building on the town’s main street. Chatham Marketplace is the anchor tenant, and the building has plenty of room for more retail stores.

Frey and the start-up group worked with several CDS consultants to revise the business plan, update their market analysis, prepare financial proformas, help organize fundraising, educate their board on policy and governance issues, support the search for a general manager, and put them in contact with other recent start-up businesses that had already gone through the process. “We benefited from lots of cooperation,” Frey notes.

General Manager Mary DeMare came on board in June, 2005 following a CDS-assisted search to hire a general manager for the new co-op. She utilized CDS’s expertise to provide operational direction. “It’s a valuable connection – priceless,” says DeMare. “A lot of the initial set-up of the store was accomplished due to their experience. Operationally, we would have started out on less secure footing without it.” Chatham Marketplace opened with 850 member-owners and is on target to add 900 new members during this first year of operation.

CDS continues to work with Chatham as requested. “I can see how a new co-op starting out would be hesitant to spend the money for consulting services,” Schwerin says. “But you have to get over that ‘scarcity’ thinking and look at the bigger picture. CDS was worth every penny.”

Frey agrees. “We definitely couldn’t have gotten where we are today without their help.”

CDS Food Cooperative Project Consultants

Bill Gessner – Lead Consultant, feasibility study, project management support
Pete Davis – Market analysis, site location
Linda Stier – Policy governance board training

Chatham Marketplace