Cooperative Spirit: Open Harvest Poised for Telegraph District Store

Now in its 48th year, cooperatively owned retail grocer Open Harvest is on track to expand to a new 10,300-square-foot location in the Telegraph District in early 2024. As General Manager Amy Tabor puts it, the new store’s retail floor will be 40% larger than its home of more than three decades at 1618 South St. in Lincoln.

“It will feel much larger to our customers,” she said. “We will provide similar products as South Street, but we are very excited to be able to sell beer and wine in this location, something our members and customers have been requesting since the surge in popularity of craft breweries and wineries in Nebraska.”

Open Harvest provides a full lineup of products, from dairy and produce to meat and seafood, and made-from-scratch deli and bakery items to supplements, body care items and household goods.

“We’ve built relationships with local farmers and food producers, providing a consistent place for them to sell their products,” Tabor added. “In the [fiscal year] 2022, nearly 27% of all of our sales came from products produced or grown within 200 miles of the state of Nebraska.”

As a cooperative grocery, Open Harvest’s owner-members are largely the customer base, but the store is open to anyone to shop.

Tabor noted the co-op business model provides a means to connect products and services to customers while strengthening the surrounding community, and world.

“While Open Harvest is one of a few food co-ops in the state of Nebraska, we are a proud member of a larger cooperative network called National Co-op Grocers,” she explained. “If you ever visit a food co-op in Minneapolis, Minnesota, Grass Valley, California, Sioux Falls, South Dakota or Belfast, Maine, there is a good chance that you are shopping at an NCG co-op.”

Guided by its “Ends Statement,” Open Harvest strives to support the community’s access to healthy, organic, local foods; economic justice and a strong local economy; inclusivity and socially-responsible practices; a robust food system and sustainable environment; and cooperative principles.

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While Tabor said its present location has served the organization well for over 30 years, the board and management engaged in ongoing discussions about a new location for many years.

“Our expansion in 2009 helped position the co-op to better withstand the increased competition that flooded the market in the early 2010s,” she recalled. “The project doubled our current space and brought several improvements to the deli and bakery kitchen spaces, walk-in coolers and offices, as well as more aisles for products.

“In 2019, it became clear that our lease was not able to be renewed. So, the board of directors and management began focusing on finding a new home for Open Harvest.”

Cooperative Spirit Alive and Well

Tabor referenced additional opportunities with the new space including more energy-efficient equipment, abundant parking space, a central location in proximity to Lincoln’s trail system and a larger outdoor seating area.

“We set a big goal to raise $2 million dollars in preferred share investments from our membership base,” Tabor said at the time of this writing. “We’ve raised $1.1 million in preferred shares and donations coming from 385 owners and community members throughout three phases of fundraising. Since our original proposed project budget, we’ve adjusted as financing and fundraising was realized and construction and equipment estimates came in.”

In fact, she noted the team is evaluating the need to raise one final round of funds from members.

“Our owner investment campaign was an enormous owner engagement undertaking, made possible by a dedicated board of directors, a cadre of volunteer callers and co-op staff members,” Tabor said. “We called every single one of our members at least once and completed 4,000-plus phone calls over the course of a year to share the investment opportunity and answer any project questions.”

During the height of three separate phases, Tabor said the team reached out via letters, postcards, e-newsletters, and maintained a constant social media presence. Additionally, the board had a strong physical presence in-store, tabling numerous weekends throughout the year and making themselves available to answer project questions.

“We had great attendance at several campaign events, supporting local businesses in the Telegraph District like Saro Cider, The Mill and at Zipline Brewing Co.,” she said. “We topped off 2022 with a wonderful in-person annual meeting, held at the Hub Café, one of the first in-person annual meetings we’ve held since the pandemic.”

To further engage with member-owners, Tabor referred to two drives whereby they can enroll or renew and enjoy an added perk or gift.

“In October, during our Fall Owner Drive, we also hold our annual board election and SEED Program vote, where members elect new directors and select recipients for the upcoming SEED Program,” she said. “Since our SEED Program launched in spring of 2020, we have raised $60,000-plus in donations for local nonprofits, selected by members and staff.”

Additionally, members have been vital in informing the board’s development of a list of priorities to help guide management’s progression through each phase of the project that is the new store. Insights were gleaned from the likes of member and staff surveys, special meetings and conversations at annual meetings.

Breaking ground in June, Tabor expects the new space to open in early 2024.

“It’s quite remarkable what a group of people managed to start over 48 years ago in someone’s basement and see how it has evolved into the organization it is today,” Tabor summed up. “We still have some of these same people who shop every week, who continue to share their amazement in our humble beginnings and proudly support what Open Harvest has become, and where we are headed in 2024.”