We Still Haven’t Found What We’re Looking For

The mural at the new Citizens Co-op in Gainsville, FL is an inspiration in terms of store design as we look for a site.

The mural at the new Citizens Co-op in Gainsville, FL is an inspiration in store design.

We launched the Co-op’s membership drive less than five months ago, and since then we’ve made incredible progress! We already have over 500 Members and over $200,000 raised in capital.  Our Location Team has been working hard to find the right home for The Mustard Seed.  Unfortunately, this has been a much more difficult process than we had anticipated. After negotiating for an ideal site since February, the landlord returned our deposit this week and said that the space will not be available.  The Team has once again regrouped and is now exploring two other options in order to find a home for the Co-op.  To our growing Founding Membership, thank you for your patience and confidence through this search! We want to keep you in the loop about what has been happening, and why it’s taking so long.

What we’re looking for

Our goal is to find a 3,000-5,000sf ground floor retail location with an accessible entrance and sufficient loading space. The storefront also needs to be convenient for cyclists and pedestrians while having 10-15 vehicle parking spaces.  Proximity to Members is weighted heavily in our decision-making matrix. Appropriate zoning is also essential so we don’t get slowed down with approvals. We anticipate leasing a space, but we are open to friendly investors who want to help buy a building for The Mustard Seed.

Our goal is to create a coherent design aesthetic that is aligned with our underlying values.  The store will be “warm”, “inviting”, and “ecological” – check out our Pinterest site for some ideas that members have shared. We are also considering each location’s potential for future growth. While not immediately necessary, other co-ops have advised that this is an important factor.

Mustard Seed Members at 516

Mustard Seed Members at 516


The challenges

Hamilton is experiencing renewal.  We are thrilled to be part of this, but it has meant we have found it much more difficult than anticipated to find a space that suits our needs. So far the Location Team and Board have toured over a dozen potential properties. We thought we were very close with two locations. The biggest challenge we have faced is finding accessibility, a large enough space, parking, affordability, and actual availability all in one location!

The good news

This setback has caused us to re-assess our timelines for opening the Co-op. This may not be a bad thing (although we are all eagerly awaiting the day that we can start stocking our shelves with wholesome local goodness!). This means that we have a little more time to get our financing in order (we still need $300,000 in capitalization, so please invest today), to hire our general manager and other staff, to research better options for the store’s equipment, and for our Sourcing Team to connect with potential local suppliers. While the location roller coaster has been happening, our Membership Team has continued to promote the Co-op at events as we push toward our 800 member targetHere in the Ambitious City, committed people are putting their energy and support behind opening the Co-op within a year, a process which many food co-ops report can take 3-5 years.


The Location Team has already toured new locations since last week’s disappointment. Our goal is still to open the Co-op within three months of securing a site.  Our location team welcomes any tips you might have about potential downtown buildings – please email operations@mustardseed.coop if you have suggestions.  Thanks for your patience, and we will keep you updated with any news in the weeks ahead!


Meetings and more meetings … and growing excitement!

We’ve been busy!  At the end of April we connected with Peter Cameron of The Ontario Co-operative Association.  It was good to talk with someone articulating the importance of a co-operative model that brings democracy into business, and Peter was also able to highlight an idea we’d been wrestling with:  how important it is to see a positive ‘upward spiral’ in the Canadian grocery system in which consumers pay a fair price for food, which allows farmers to receive a fair price and grocery workers a fair wage, which continues the upward spiral creating a healthy food economy.  While it looks like the technical assistance funding that was once available for Ontario co-ops has been cut, we’re confident that through connections with experts like Peter we can continue to move The Mustard Seed from idea to reality!

We also learned a lot from John Richmond, Director at the West End Food Co-op in Toronto, who we spoke about some of the practical aspects of starting a food cooperative.  Starting a new business is a daunting process, and starting a new community grocery in an era of supermarket dominance is perhaps even more so.   John had lots of wisdom to share with us on subjects as varied as membership structures, board governance, capitalization, and educating people about cooperatives.  In a thriving local food system, there would be more places like the Westend Food Co-op.  We wish them success as they develop a food hub in Toronto’s Parkdale neighborhood!

And then last week we connected with Our Community Food Store in St. Catharines, a great group that is a little ahead of us in getting a co-op established in their downtown.  Our new St. Catharines friends share a really similar vision to us  – as they say on their website “We feel it is essential that there be a place to shop within our community that is accessible, affordable, and sustainable. It is our vision to both nourish our bodies and build community spirit in our downtown neighbourhoods.”  We were able to bounce ideas off each other, and learned a lot from them about using social media and developing a good consumer survey – wait for it, it’s coming soon!!