The effort to open a food cooperative in the Watertown area reached some firsts recently, and progress toward opening a store is moving faster than other local co-ops.
The Charles River Food Co-op was incorporated in April 2022, with a goal of opening a store primarily serving Watertown, Newton, and Waltham.
On Nov. 14, the Charles River Food Co-op held its first annual meeting, and the organization recently held its first board election. Co-op members elected five new board members, and four members of the original board members will remain and those seats will be elected next year, said Co-op Board President Nick Quaranto.
At the annual meeting, Quaranto updated the progress toward making the food co-op a reality.
“When are you going to open? — my favorite question,” Quaranto said.
The group is early in the second of the three stages for opening a co-op, he said, in which a feasibility study will be the focus.
At the time of the annual meeting, the co-op had 763 members, less that a year and a half after it was incorporated.
“We need at least 1,000 (members) to open,” Quaranto said. “We really need 1,300 to 1,500.”
He noted that the co-op has about 2,100 followers who are not yet members who he hopes will join.
Jenny Silverman, a board member of the recently opened Dorchester Food Co-op, said that the Charles River Co-op is moving faster than the Dorchester one, which was incorporated in 2011 and opened this fall.
“We were very excited to hit 500,” she recalled. “It took five years.”
The developer of the building located the store on the ground floor, and there are affordable housing units on top. The store emphasizes hiring locally, and more the 80 percent are from the neighborhood where the co-op is located, Silverman said. (See an NBC 10 Boston tour of the store here.)
Darnell Adams, a consultant who worked with the Dorchester group, said that she believes the Charles River Food Co-op has a receptive group of residents who understand what a food market can be with many shopping at the now-closed Russo’s market.
The next step is to do a market study to answer many of the questions that the co-op has now, including where a store could be located. Quaranto said the study will focus on four areas: Pleasant Street in Watertown, California Street and Washington Street in Newton, and Waltham’s Moody Street.
The group is working with a consultant who helped open Whole Foods, before it was bought by Amazon, Quaranto said.
Adams said the biggest challenge will be raising the money to build the co-op. The Dorchester Food Co-op cost $3.5 million to build, according to Silverman.
“Ours will probably be significantly higher,” said Kathryn Loup, a Charles River Food Co-op board member.
The co-op is looking for spaces between 10,000 and 20,000 sq. ft., Loup added.
The Charles River Food Co-op also has about $124,000 in the bank, Quaranto said, and has received $800 in grants.
“I want to add zeros to that,” Quaranto said.
The co-op spent about $17,000 in Fiscal Year 2023, and Quaranto said the budget for FY24 is $27,000.