Since beginning as a small purchasing club on neighborhood porches in 1975, the French Broad Food Co-op has grown to become a full-service grocery on Biltmore Avenue in downtown Asheville. However, the intimate neighbor-to-neighbor feel of those founding days still colors the day-to-day operation of French Broad.
That “listen first” approach to governance that you will find in small purchasing clubs has continued to guide the co-op through its growth story, resulting in a co-op that today is debt-free and continuing to increase sales in a highly-competitive local market.
Now French Broad eyes bigger things for the future. The co-op plans to break ground in early 2017 on a new facility that will triple its retail space. “The owners have made it clear they want a bigger store,” says General Manager Bobby Sullivan, “and not only that but better parking.”
As 2016 unfolds, the co-op is working with neighbors, city government and contractors to finalize plans for the space around the co-op, which is located along Biltmore Avenue a few blocks south of Pack Square. French Broad’s vision of a mixed residential-retail space with a parking deck is reflective of a series of conversations the co-op had with its membership in 2015.
“Owners want a full shopping experience, want us to remain financially strong and want us to continue our community building work,” said Finance & Project Manager Sage Turner. To that end, the co-op and its members advocate affordable housing in the overall plan design. Turner recalls that one member inspired her by sharing, “it isn’t affordable housing if our co-op staff can’t afford it.”
While the final project plans and time lines are not yet set, French Broad will construct a modern facility located just next door to the existing 3,800 square foot storefront which the co-op has called home for more than 20 years. This project will allow members to witness first hand the construction of the new space, while continuing to shop at the existing co-op.
The new space will allow French Broad to offer new products and increase its already robust connections to local producers — adding more fresh foods, dry goods and grab-and-go selections that members have been requesting. It’s an ambitious, sunny future on Biltmore Avenue, but it’s a future that looks in many ways like those founding roots among friends and neighbors some 40 years ago.