On Sunday Jan. 8, the members of East Lansing Food Co-op will decide the fate of their storefront, and discuss the future of their organization.
The Board of Directors met on Monday and decided to close their store on or before Feb. 4, said Board President Anne Woiwode. The Board also called a meeting of more than 1,000 Co-op members to consider and vote on the resolution: “Shall the Board of Directors of the East Lansing Food Cooperative (ELFCO) be authorized to sell the property” located on Northwind Avenue in East Lansing. The property was purchased in 2007 and refinanced in 2012.
“For several year’s ELFCO’s store has been losing money as a result of growing competition and other internal and external factors. Despite substantial efforts to turn the financial condition of the store around, there is no prospect that the store can be kept open,” read the letter to members. Accompanying documents show that weekly sales have decreased between 26 and 54 percent since 2013.
The meeting to vote on the sale of the property will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Allen Neighborhood Center in Lansing. For a sale to take place, it must be approved by two-thirds of the owners present.
This does not mean the end for the 40-year-old organization, however. Since forming in a basement room at MSU in 1976, they have specialized in connecting natural, organic and locally produced food with customers in the region. They will continue to pursue those goals, Woiwode said.
“The ELFCO corporation is not being dissolved at this time, and many owners are eager to begin the process of ‘rebirthing’ ELFCO, consistent with our purposes and mission, to meet the changing needs of our Greater Lansing Community,” the letter read.
ELFCO has faced increased competition since the opening of a Whole Foods store across the street, along with competition from Food for Living nearby and Fresh Thyme Groceries across town.
“This is an issue that has been coming to a head over quite a bit of time,” Woiwode said. “It’s been a long, developing challenge with several external factors over time. Food for Living, which is a great locally owned store brought some competition and repairs to Grand River Avenue and cut down access to the store.”
In fact, increased competition is a good sign for one of the original goals of the founding Co-op members – to make more natural, organic and healthy products available to people in the Lansing region.
“Now you can find whole wheat flour almost anywhere,” Woiwode said. “So we need to show that we are much more than a place to buy tofu.”
Woiwode said other neighborhoods around East Lansing and Lansing have been approaching the Co-op about opening a store in their areas for years. This may be the time to find a better location for the store and the region.
“Most of us are hoping we are able to rebirth the cooperative in a way that fits the community needs and interests of our owners,” she said. “
While the meeting on Sunday is restricted to co-op members only, Woiwode would love to see more of the public play a role in the future of the organization, especially anyone who can offer sound business advice.
“We hope to include the whole community in these conversations moving forward,” she said.