Carbondale's community connector

Food Co-Op gets a chance to survive (and thrive)

Locations: News Published

By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff Writer

This is not the end for Dandelion Market — but for a moment it sure looked like it might be.

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A few weeks ago, the 10-year-old local food cooperative, which hasn’t turned a profit since 2013, is tens of thousands of dollars in debt to vendors and staff and is expected to be out of its current location on July 1, was facing the possibility of bankruptcy. Erica Sparhawk, Richard Vottero and Shana Miller were the only remaining members of an ideally five-plus-person board, and Courtney Miller was the last paid staff member standing. Without the volunteer base of years past, the storefront was closed more often than not. The best case scenario was to cut all the way back to a buyer’s club with a location outside of town.

That’s when the owners of Rhumba Girl Liquors and the Crystal River Laundromat came forward with an offer. The Co-Op could take over Sara’s Market, a fledgling endeavor occupying a 600 square foot space in their building at 1310 Highway 133. At $600 a month to start and with the grocery license already in place, it was an appealing option.

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“We have an opportunity,” Sparhawk told about a dozen members-owners — mostly former board members and staff — at a meeting on June 26. “These guys have really stepped up and been willing to work with us.”

The board, along with prospective member Jeff Dickinson, presented a budget that laid out a sort of roadmap to solvency in the new space. It would involve taking on some of the original inventory which might not fit the Co-Op’s natural-and-organic philosophy, and while there’s plenty of equipment between the two Markets, it might take some time before state approval to sell produce could be arranged. In the meantime, the board envisioned a farmer’s market style vendor on the lawn outside.

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“It’s pretty bare bones,” Dickinson said. “It’s going to take a lot to make this happen — a lot of sacrifice and volunteer labor.”

Some of those assembled had doubts about making that happen.

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“If you’re not 110 percent behind it, it won’t work,” Mary Catherine Conger said. “It was very frustrating for me to try to support the Co-Op and not have communication. I drove by probably a dozen times and then I stopped coming.”

Laurie Loeb reminded her fellows that times had changed.

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“When we started the Co-Op, there was a real need here for an outlet for organic food,” she said. “We have other competition now that didn’t exist before.”

On the other hand, Joanne Teeple pointed out, the Grand Avenue Bridge project might give an advantage to the home team.

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“Let’s see who wants to go to Vitamin Cottage on Aug. 15 (when construction is supposed to start),” she said.

In Vottero’s estimation, folding and defaulting on their bills wasn’t an option.

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“We’re really hurting about hurting these vendors,” he said. “I think if the store closes, it will really be hard to get this type of business back into Carbondale.”

In the end, Dickinson was officially voted onto the board, and Sontantar — who was involved from the start — stepped up to round out the board to five. With the infusion of newfound energy, the board found enough optimism to move forward and discuss a lease.

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Meanwhile, following a closeout shopping day on June 28, the Market is looking for moving assistance starting at 9 a.m. on June 29 and 30. Email to volunteer.