“Cheltenham,” some of its citizens proudly boast, “is Mt. Airy with its own school district.”
Politically anyway, Cheltenham does lean left: In the last election, Tom Wolf carried it with 88 percent of the vote, a higher percentage than any other municipality in Montgomery County. Those who spend any time there might wonder where the 12% who voted for the other guy are hiding.
Such a liberal ecosystem need not be required to grow a co-op, but it helps, and in 2008 a bunch of neighbors, predominantly in Elkins Park but spread throughout Cheltenham and even into Abington and East Oak Lane, created what would soon be named Creekside Co-op.
One of their motivations was to breathe new life into downtown Elkins Park, an enchanting knot of businesses clustered around the busy Elkins Park train station. For years the Ashbourne Market had served as this little village’s anchor tenant, and since its closure back in the early 2000s things had languished.
Having founded Creekside Co-op, the people of Cheltenham then did what hardly anyone else could have done. Entirely on their own, they signed up thousands of members, raised equity and secured the necessary financing. In 2012 they opened a cooperatively-owned grocery store right on the spot of the old Ashbourne Market.
Sadly, last month Creekside Co-op closed its store. Despite all the hard work, despite a core group of dedicated members, it came down to simple math: sales were insufficient to cover operating costs.
This disheartening development has brought out the armchair quarterbacks, who have had plenty to say on social media about all the things Creekside did wrong. Any human endeavor is peppered with mistakes, and in six years of operating their store Creekside surely made their share. But they got a lot right too, and their membership should be proud of what they accomplished.
Downtown Elkins Park is once again flourishing, with Creekside succeeding as the catalyst for new business development.
And if their store is gone, the community remains strong. Creekside’s members have reaffirmed their commitment to supporting the other businesses that have sprouted up around the Co-op, and there’s much talk about what will happen next.
They also haven’t given up on finding a way to bring some kind of food retail back to their store. Lots of creative ideas are being floated about, and while it will take some time for the community to identify the best path forward, it’s a good bet they’ll come up with something.
For now, here at Weavers Way we’re doing what we can to provide Creekside’s membership with what we hope will be a temporary alternative. Their members are welcome to become members of Weavers Way without having to pay their first year’s equity. We’re also working on other incentives to encourage their members to shop at one of our stores.
It’s a far cry from having a grocery store in your own neighborhood, but for the time being it’s an option. We will be going out of our way to make sure Creekside’s members feel as welcomed as possible here at Weavers Way.
I am certain the closing of Creekside is not the last chapter in this story. The people of Cheltenham’s commitment to their community led to the creation of Creekside, and that commitment will serve them well as they figure out what happens next.
This proud, diverse, historic, progressive community embodies the cooperative virtues of toleration and shared prosperity. No community deserves to own their own grocery store more than they do.
See you around the Co-op.
Editor’s Note: A Creekside members meeting will take place Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 7:30 p.m. The location of the meeting was not yet determined at press time.
I’d like to set aside the last few inches of my column to pay tribute to Mary Sweeten, who has served as editor of the Shuttle since 2013 before retiring last month. Mary brought a level of professionalism to an organization that tends to treat professionalism with suspicion, and the production quality of the Shuttle these last few years has largely been the result of her hard and excellent work.
The Shuttle isn’t the New York Times but it’s an important part of the culture here at Weavers Way, and thanks to Mary it’s better now than it’s ever been. On behalf of all my colleagues I’d like to thank Mary for her time with us and wish her the best in retirement.