Two weeks ago, the Missoula Community Food Co-op opened the doors of its expanded new digs on Burns Street, a bright and airy grocery store that makes the old 450-square-foot space seem like a broom closet by comparison.
"A year ago [we] were repairing broken windows from kids throwing rocks through them," said co-op board member Jack Rowan during a recent walk-through with Jerry Petasek and Hermina Harold of the North-Missoula Community Development Corporation (NMCDC). "And so in just a year's time it's really transformed into a completely different building."
The renovation, a partnership between the co-op and NMCDC, was made possible by a $950,000 federal appropriation secured by Montana's congressional delegation nearly two years ago.
Beyond the co-op, which specializes in bulk goods and local produce, the former FedEx warehouse will soon house a café and community kitchen.
"It's more than just another grocery store in Missoula," Rowan said. "We see this as a real community resource and a big part of trying to revitalize the Westside neighborhood."
As two men worked on the new windows in the soon-to-be café, Rowan explained that the co-op is raising additional money in a rather unorthodox way—taking out a loan from its roughly 200 active members. The approach allows the co-op to borrow at a rate less than banks typically offer, and gives member-lenders a higher rate of return—at least 4 percent—than most CDs and savings accounts. So far, the co-op's raised more than $25,000 of the $45,000 it needs, and is extending the offer to all Missoulians.
The money will be used for landscaping and equipment—like the shelving and refrigerators the co-op recently salvaged when Linens 'n Things and Walmart discarded them—among other costs.
In addition to its grocery and café businesses, come June the co-op, in conjunction with the Missoula Food Bank and Garden City Harvest, will begin a summer meals program for area kids.
"We have many, many hopes for this little project," Harold said.
Added Petasek: "1.52 acres of pure hope."