Dear fellow Weavers Way members,
A year has passed since we first wrote to you about our plans to open a store in Ambler, PA. It’s been an eventful year and with our plans for an Ambler store quickly moving towards reality, we figured an update is due.
Last month, we officially entered into a lease for 217 E. Butler Ave. in downtown Ambler. With the lease in hand, we have moved from the planning stage of the project to the execution stage. All of our efforts are now focused on getting the doors open as soon as possible.
The building is about five years old and was designed to be a grocery store. These factors work to our advantage: We don’t have to worry about things like asbestos, lead paint or knob-and-tube wiring. It was constructed to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, so there are accessible bathrooms, double doors and no steps in the retail area.
But while the building is essentially new, there’s plenty of work to be done. All the previous systems and equipment were stripped out. The previous tenant, Bottom Dollar Food, did not have a prepared-foods department, so there’s no commercial kitchen. To ensure adequate space for back stock, we’re constructing a mezzanine level for offices and community space.
We also want to make improvements outside. While the building is part of a walkable community, little attempt was made to integrate it into the rest of town. The no-frills exterior is unwelcoming. (It’s pretty ugly, too.) So we’re spending money to punch out some windows and add exterior design features that will make the building more a part of the fabric of Ambler.
As we write, construction has not yet begun, but we’re close. So by the time you read this, our hope is that construction is under way. Our contractors tell us this is a four-month job. That means we’ve got a shot at opening before Labor Day.
Between now and then, there’s much to do!
Above all else is member recruitment. Last month, we formally partnered with the Ambler Food Co-op. Members of the AFC are now officially members of Weavers Way, pushing our total membership close to 7,000 households. Of those, about 600 are in and around Ambler, a fantastic start. Before the store opens, we expect to sign up many more.
“Membership” is a word that’s been co-opted (and distorted) by the likes of Costco and Sam’s Club (which is why many co-ops have now dropped “members” in favor of “owners”). In a community where many are unfamiliar with the cooperative model, we have some evangelizing to do. For this we are relying primarily on our existing base of members who live in and around Ambler.
While Opening Day is still a few months away, we’ve begun hiring for the Ambler store. Kathryn Worley, who since November has been on assignment as the interim general manager at Creekside Co-op in Elkins Park, has been appointed Ambler store manager. She’s winding down the assignment at Creekside and will be focused entirely on Ambler by June 1.
The other Ambler store positions will be filled during the summer. It is our intention to have a core group of veteran staffers transfer from Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. We also intend to hire many folks from the Ambler community. (Having a group of staff within walking distance is indispensable, especially when it snows!)
As in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill, we’ll work to recruit a diverse staff, with a particular emphasis on groups who often struggle to find meaningful employment: ex-offenders, formerly homeless, refugees and asylum-seekers, people with intellectual disabilities.
Weavers Way Ambler is a great leap forward for the cooperative economy in our region. All of us — members, employees, vendors and the communities we serve — stand to benefit from our growth.
We’ll report back on our progress during the summer as we get closer to opening. By then, we’ll have a much better idea of our exact opening date and we’ll be able to give details on a Grand Opening celebration.
Thank you for your continued dedication to our co-op.
Chris Hill, President, Board of Directors
Jon Roesser, General Manager