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MailTribune.com
  • It's down to the wire for Medford Food Co-op

    As of Saturday, $485,000 had been raised, just shy of the $500,000 needed to begin construction
  • The Medford Food Co-op is on the verge of becoming a reality.
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  • The Medford Food Co-op is on the verge of becoming a reality.
    After a series of stops and starts, leadership changes and a lengthy site search stretching back to 2005, the Medford Food Co-op Board will meet Monday night, hopeful — maybe even confident — it has the financial commitments to move on to its next phase.
    Between Tuesday and Friday, $60,000 worth of pledges, memberships and loans poured in, boosting the group's bank account to $485,000, said Co-op board president Jim Sims, just shy of the $500,000 organizers needed to get things rolling with their new landlord.
    "We're ready to go," said Russ Batzer, who owns the building that Co-op organizers hope will be their new home. "It sounds like they are pretty darn close. If they are within $15,000 to $20,000, they are going to make it," Batzer said Saturday.
    "We'll be transitioning from a capitalization effort to an actualization effort," Sims said. "The momentum is on our side.
    "There's no Sunday mail, so we'll be looking at our Monday mail. The money has been coming in. We're looking for three more investors, or one big one."
    The food co-op idea flashed brilliantly onto Medford's horizon in early 2005, with predictions a store would be operating by 2007.
    But even as plans were laid, the ground was giving way beneath organizers' feet as the real estate bubble burst, followed by the meltdown of financial markets. Unemployment grew and credit dwindled.
    "The bad economy and an unsuccessful first effort was a very heavy burden," Sims said. "I can't think of a more challenging scenario than the one that I walked into in early 2009 when I was elected board president."
    Now, patience and perseverance apparently have prevailed.
    "There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come," Sims said. "It just took a while for the community to get back on track and to get to the realization that they all wanted this to happen, and they made it happen. I think the credit goes to the idea that wouldn't die."
    After surveying buildings from all sides of town, the co-op in May settled on a 9,000-square-foot building owned by Batzer on the east side of Riverside Avenue, about a block north of the point where South Pacific Highway splits into Riverside and Central avenues. At times the building has been used as a restaurant, an office complex and day care center.
    Batzer will await word of the Co-op board's vote Monday. If approval comes, his company, Batzer Construction, is poised to begin demolition work, start remodeling and build a 700- to 800-square-foot addition.
    "Once we are notified, we finalize the drawings and get a permit," Batzer said Saturday. "It will probably be six or seven weeks before we can start the remodel."
    There was a sense of relief as Sims spoke Saturday, even though the monumental effort isn't finished.
    "Everything that has been necessary for this endeavor has materialized along the way," Sims said. "Professional people volunteered along the way; ComNet (a company that assists nonprofits retain members) set us up in a way we couldn't have created ourselves."
    Earlier missteps and wrangling — exacerbated by a weak local economy — are slowly disappearing in the rearview mirror.
    "The process was knowing which steps had to be taken, in what order, and focusing on one step at a time ... and not getting discouraged along the way," Sims said. "Four months after the stock market crashed, people said you're never going to make it. It was easy for them to say, but we didn't choose the time."
    Public-relations obstacles had to be overcome as well.
    "There were questions about the first effort," he said. "People were hurt and unhappy. The idea was tarnished and it took a few years to resurrect the idea, get the community back on board to really thinking it was possible."
    Sims credited Tom Larson, Augustine Colebrook, Donna Kessler and John Miele for bringing unique talents to the table during the process.
    The momentum acquired from transitioning beyond capitalization is attracting new $100 members. As of Saturday, the Co-op had sold 1,500 shares to 1,350 families.
    "If an announcement is made on Monday, I think people will immediately start joining," Sims said. "Ashland adds 50 new members per month, so once the doors open I think we will add 70 to 80 members a month."
    Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.
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