The day before the official grand opening, Eric “Bull” Gervasi carefully placed each carton of eggs onto the shelves of the dairy cooler. Much of the heavy lifting had already been undertaken and this seemed to be merely a finishing touch. As the project manager for the store’s move, Gervasi had seen each step of the store’s transition and now was just hours, and a few eggs, away from its completion.
The new space for Mariposa Food Co-op is a welcoming option for Cedar Park residents. The store, which originally opened in 1971, moved to its new, spacious location last week and opened to the public on Saturday.
The new store, located at 4824 Baltimore Ave., is five times the size of the previous location. Along with spacious aisles, the store has an abundance of shelf space which allows it to stock more of the locally grown and organic food it specializes in. Formerly a bank, the buildings entrance is marked by large Romanesque pillars and the stock room is an old vault.
“It’s incredibly well renovated,” said Amy Janke as she shopped in the store’s frozen food section. “It’s bright, it’s spacious. It’s well-stocked even though it’s just the opening weekend. I think the variety they can offer here is so fantastic compared to the small space where we were before.”
The expansion project cost $2.5 million, which was raised through fundraising and small-business grants. The store is owned by its members, who pay a one-time member equity deposit of $200. The deposit is refundable once a member decides to end their membership. Gervasi said the customer-ownership allows for lower prices as the store is not run by a profit-oriented owner.
A customer does not need to be a member in order to shop at Mariposa, but a member receives lower prices than a regular customer. Gervasi said the old store featured 1,200 members and did close to $1 million in sales per year.
“We’re going through a big change and we’re a small organization, so there’s going to be some bumps along the way,” said Gervasi, who is also the store’s produce manager.
Janke said she shops at Mariposa more often than she does at other stores, as the location is within walking distance to her home. Besides the grocery options, Janke cited the store’s community involvement as a drawing factor. She said she uses Mariposa primarily for everyday needs such as eggs, yogurt and milk.
Although it is not required, members are encouraged to work one shift per month at the store. The work shifts help maintain affordable prices and keep members ingrained in the co-op. Since there’s not a sole owner of the store, the members elect a 13-member board that overlooks the day-to-day operations.
On Sunday afternoon, Allison Lin worked her first shift in the store’s produce section. She had previously spent her once a month, three-hour work shift at the Mill Creek Farm at 49th and Brown streets. The farm and Mariposa formed a partnership that allows members to work at the farm while the store places the farm’s items on its shelves.
“I feel like the people I’ve seen coming in today, there’s a lot of people who have been members before of the Co-op,” Lin said. “But there are a lot of people from the neighborhood who want to come in and check it out and see what’s going on. I think it will be a hub for the community.”
West Philadelphia is clearly not immune to the grocery store shortage that plagues America’s inner-cities. According to a study by Wayne State University, grocery stores abandoned the inner-city during the 1980s and 1990s for the spacious area of the suburbs, which allowed a grocery store to transform into a super store. In order for most West Philadelphia residents to access a supermarket, they must utilize public transportation to get there.
Maxine Lewis is one of those. She said she uses SEPTA to travel to The Fresh Grocer in University City and Murray’s Food Mart at 26th Street and Girard Avenue. She visited Mariposa during the soft opening last week and was impressed with the store’s produce section, which she compared to a farmers’ market.
The nearest grocer to Mariposa is an Aldi on the other side of Market Street and The Fresh Grocer in University City. Along with creating jobs for the community, grocery stores offer residents the opportunity to buy fresh and healthy food at affordable prices. Instead of shopping at grocery stores, many residents are forced to do their food shopping at corner stores, which denies them the chance to buy fresh meat and produce.
“I think we have the potential to have a decent, positive impact on the neighborhood,” Gervasi said.
*This article was corrected to reflect that the co-op is in Cedar Park, not Walnut Hill, and to provide the correct address at 4824 Baltimore Ave.