Lombard food co-op $2.1 million short of fundraising goal

Prairie Food Co-op has signage up at 109 S. Main St., Lombard, announcing it is to be the site of a 10,000-square-foot store with a target to open in late 2022 or early 2023.

But DuPage County’s first cooperatively owned grocery store dedicated to supporting local farmers and producers is far from a sure thing.

Prairie Food Co-op has raised only $1 million of its $3.1 million Community Investment Campaign. The co-op has a Dec. 15 deadline to reach that amount.

“Raising $1 million in nine weeks for a phase-one funding campaign is a really spectacular feat,” said Kathy Nash, Prairie Food Co-op board president and co-founder. “But we need another $2 million from our ownership, or the community, in terms of grants or low-interest loans or some combination of things that will get us to our final funding goal.”

The total project for Prairie Food Co-op’s brick-and-mortar store is estimated to be $4.4 million. Nash said an estimated $1.3 million can be secured in commercial loans, but the co-op must complete its $3.1 million investment campaign before accessing those funds.

“We have seen much interest from banks and credit unions who would be willing to give us loans, but we simply can’t take on too much commercial debt,” Nash said. “It is much more expensive than the investments we are seeking from our owners.”

Prairie Food Co-op has nearly 1,500 owners throughout DuPage -- a high number, according to Nash, for a co-op without a physical location. Owners are encouraged to join with a one-time fee of $200 to access certain perks and discounts at the planned store.

“We recognize that not every person who becomes an owner has the capacity to make a large investment,” Nash said. “We really need people who have done well financially in the stock market to make larger investments at the $5,000, $10,000 or $25,000 level to make this happen.”

Nash said Prairie Food Co-op is also seeking out grants whenever possible -- it was recently awarded a $2,000 grant that was part of a Bill Gessner Co-op Award for “Excellence in Organizing.”

But Nash said other potential grants are hard to come by. For example, she said DuPage’s robust economy would preclude Prairie Food Co-op from applying for grants targeted at low-income communities.

“As a co-op, we straddle the line between nonprofit and for-profit,” she said. “We’re a cooperative, which has its own taxing structure in the state of Illinois, so we are automatically disqualified for a lot of grants that would fund something similar to what we’re doing.”

Though Prairie Food Co-op is recalibrating fundraising campaigns, officials are moving ahead with building plans. The co-op has signed a 10-year building lease with Indiana-based Holladay Properties, which will have a private building groundbreaking to begin construction Thursday, June 17.

“We really do need to come together as a community collectively and support this if we really want it to happen,” Nash said. “People need to understand that this is not a done deal.”