Tim Bartlett, the co-op’s general manager, said about 30 new members will bring the total to 10,000, which could come this week. The natural foods grocery store is also poised to top $10 million in sales for the first time in the fiscal year that ends June 30.
Adding sugar-free frosting to the co-op’s wave of good news is the Cooperative Excellence Award it walked away with at the annual Consumer Cooperative Management Association conference this month in Austin, Texas.
“It’s – oh my gosh – an enormous honor,” Bartlett said. “To be recognized by our peers for cooperative excellence and to be ranked with some of the best natural food stores in the country is really a phenomenal thing.”
Ellen Quinn, funds manager at the Cooperative Development Foundation, which gave out the award, said the Buffalo co-op stood out among the other nominees this year.
“It was decided very quickly by this committee that Lexington was head and shoulders above the competition,” Quinn said.
The co-op, which began at the corner of Lexington and Ashland avenues back in 1970, has grown by leaps and bounds since opening a new store in 2005 on Elmwood, when the membership stood at about 2,000. Since then, about 1,000 permanent members have been added per year. About 9,000 of the 10,000 members are considered active members, having shopped in the store at least once in the past 12 months.
The co-op’s board of directors, followed by the membership, began a careful process of studying expansion in 2010.
“We are beginning our site search for what is most likely going to be a second location,” Bartlett said. “If the right site opened in our neighborhood that would allow us to become twice as big, it would be our strong preference. Since that seems unlikely, and we love our store, most likely our next move will be a second store.”
Bartlett said opening a second store in the suburbs was a possibility. “It depends where the membership is and the demand for what we do is. If the best location is in the suburbs, I don’t think we are averse to that.”
Building on top of the two-story co-op, which has 4,500 square feet of grocery space, is considered cost-prohibitive, and there is no other room for expansion. But some remodeling is planned in early 2014 – short of finding a larger location – to provide more room for the co-op’s deli and produce sections.
“It’s such a cool thing that this little community business that was started by 30 people in 1971 in the back of the People Art Coffeehouse, which is where Kuni’s is now, has grown to be a $10 million business, and be recognized as one of the best co-ops in the country,” Bartlett said.