Representatives of the Sugar Beet food cooperative have an official new home at 820 Madison St., after signing a 10-year lease deal today for $45,000.
Sugar Beet co-founder Cheryl Munoz said in a telephone interview that the group hopes to have the 5,300-square-foot store open by early 2015.
The member-driven grocery store will be on the ground floor of the newly renovated Grove Apartments, a 52-unit affordable housing development run by Interfaith Housing Development Corporation of Chicago and the Oak Park Housing Authority.
Munoz said the housing group "really took a leap of faith" on the co-op startup.
"We love the synergy between Sugar Beet and Interfaith Housing," she said. "The residents upstairs that we will be serving every day is meaningful to us."
Perry Vietti, chief operating officer for Interfaith, said in a telephone interview that the housing organization's mission does not include commercial ventures, but the village's zoning required ground-floor retail in the space.
"This is something that came as part of zoning, so that's why we're doing it. It's not about money; it's about doing what we said we would do," he said, adding the group aimed to find a tenant that the community would support and which would serve the building's residents.
"To me that's a win-win all the way around," he said.
Vietti noted that when Interfaith first proposed the four-story housing development about five years ago, "there was not widespread support for what we were doing." Critics argued that the group would not be able to find a retail tenant and that the space would sit empty.
He acknowledged it is difficult to attract retail in the Madison corridor but Interfaith cast a wide net in its search for a tenant, and the organization is "pleased we've able to identify someone, and they're very serious about making this work."
Munoz said Sugar Beet already has raised $200,000 in its $1.6 million capital campaign, which was launched earlier this month. The group expects to raise the first $800,000 to $900,000 from its member loan program.
Sugar Beet also is meeting with the village and the Oak Park Economic Development Corporation to request tax increment finance district funding. She did not reveal how much TIF money Sugar Beet plans to seek.
"Membership and excitement is building, but we are going to start working on our capital campaign in earnest now," she said. "Now is the fun part where we get to meet our neighbors."
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