The Medford Food Co-op has narrowed its choice of sites to one — the former Toys for the Home store next to TJ Maxx in Bear Creek Plaza — but it hasn't yet signed a lease for that location.

The Medford Food Co-op has narrowed its choice of sites to one — the former Toys for the Home store next to TJ Maxx in Bear Creek Plaza — but it hasn't yet signed a lease for that location.

"We are negotiating terms," said co-op board member John Miele, adding that the owner of the Biddle Road shopping center was eager to work with the co-op.

He explained that the roughly 22,000-square-foot store has more than twice as much retail space as the co-op would need, so the board is working out a way to divide it, as well as hashing out financial details of the lease.

"We have a strong obligation to all members in the community to ensure that the co-op is successful once it opens," Miele said. "The first step in that is getting a lease on favorable terms."

A previous effort to establish a natural foods co-op in Medford foundered in 2007, in part because organizers signed a lease and started renovations before they had full funding in place, thus spending their seed money well before they could start relying on operating revenue.

"We aren't going to make that error again," said Jim Sims, president of the current co-op's board.

The board eliminated the former Spearco building at Fourth and Fir streets from consideration as a possible location because extensive renovations far exceeded the start-up's budget, Sims said. The site was favored by members in an informal poll this summer.

Negotiations for the former Foodland store on Stewart Avenue in southwest Medford — the second most popular site in the summer poll — have stalled, co-op officials said.

They pointed out that Bear Creek Plaza is easily accessible and has lots of shoppers, but no grocery store. The center's owner has offered to make store improvements and provide other incentives, co-op representatives said.

In order to move forward, the co-op is making a push to raise $500,000 needed to open a store next year. So far, it has collected about $30,000, Sims said.

Miele said it will need 750 new members to purchase $100 shares by March, as well as corporate sponsorships and booster efforts from its 1,300 members who joined the previous effort, to meet financial goals.

The co-op is kicking off a major fundraising drive, paid for by sponsors. A family-fundraising event featuring a magician and a kid-friendly menu is set for 3 p.m. Nov. 22 at Grilla Bites, 226 E. Main St., Medford. Admission is $15 for adults, $5 for kids ages 8 through 12, and free for kids 7 and younger. Anyone who buys a membership share for $100 at the event gets in for free.

People can buy membership shares or find out more about loans and sponsorships in support of the co-op at or by calling Robin Brown at 826-9355.

Sims said all money raised through memberships and loans is held in trust and will be refunded if the store doesn't open by June 30, 2010.

"You can't wait to join when it opens," he said. "We have to generate financing first, so we can open."

While supporters must provide the core financing, the co-op has teamed with two local banks that have agreed to provide lines of credit when membership targets are met, he said.

If fundraising and lease negotiations meet the March deadline, buying and installing equipment, stocking inventory and hiring a general manager and other employees would take another two months, Miele said.

The store — which would feature local produce, meat raised in Oregon without hormones, bulk foods and high-quality general grocery items — could open in June.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail