By Adam Frank
One of the most momentous events in the 40-year history of the Takoma Park Silver Spring Co-op was our relocation in 1998 from a storefront on Sligo Avenue in Silver Spring to our present location at the Takoma Junction.
My wife and I joined the Co-op shortly after we moved to Takoma Park in 1992. At the time, the Co-op operated on a shoestring budget. It did not have a general manager, but was run by a group of coordinators. Like many other members at the time, we volunteered at the store, unloading deliveries and stocking shelves. Specifically, we stocked the juice shelves once or twice a week. It was amazing how much we were able to fit into that tiny space. The shelves on the walls reached almost to the ceiling and a variety of goods were packed into every cranny of that store. Our sales per square foot were through the roof when compared with other food co-ops around the country. We were primed for expansion and, by the time I was elected to the Co-op’s Board of Representatives in 1995, we were already considering moving to a larger space.
In looking for a new space we considered locations in both Silver Spring and Takoma Park. While many members wanted us to move into Takoma Park, there were also many who wanted us to remain in Silver Spring. It just so happened that, in 1996 the City of Takoma Park came calling, strongly encouraging us to consider its community. The revitalization of Takoma Junction was a priority and a 1996 study commissioned by the City envisioned turning the city-owned lot into a ‘village center’, with a ‘healthy food market’ as the anchor business.
I became president of the Co-op in 1996. Around that time, we became aware that the family-run Turner Electric Supply store was looking for a new tenant for its building, with Mr. Turner ready to enter retirement. We jumped at the opportunity to talk with Mr. Turner about TPSS Co-op moving into that building. The Turner building, once a Safeway grocery store, seemed perfect. It was a good size and located within easy walking and commuting distance of many of our customers. The City of Takoma Park sat down with the Turners and myself and other representatives of the Co-op at a meeting at the Municipal Building in 1997. City staff helped us negotiate a lease with the Turners and provided assistance in our efforts to secure financing for the move.
The Turner family has proved to be a wonderful landlord. I think that they liked the idea that we would preserve the façade and look of their building, while giving us latitude in the lease terms to make improvements and changes to the structure to accommodate the needs of a modern grocery.
The sticking points to making the location work was to create a loading dock for our deliveries as well as space for trash and recycling. Our original plan for deliveries was to use the Sycamore lot and to improve the entrance on that side of the building to accommodate truck deliveries. However, it quickly became apparent that the residents of Sycamore Ave. and other close Co-op neighbors had grave concerns about the Co-op using that side of the building for loading.
One issue was the disruptions of delivery trucks on the residential street and feasibility of turning movements required for large vehicles. But the biggest worry was over the safety of children. Every morning children walking to the elementary and middle schools cut through the lot. The idea of delivery trucks mixing with school children caused a lot of consternation. We met several times with citizen groups in that area as well as with the City Council and Mayor. In conjunction with the City a solution was developed. The City stressed that the safest way that deliveries could be made to the Co-op would be through the City-owned lot on the west side of our building. The City offered to lease us the lot for both customer parking and deliveries.
The Co-op had very little money at that time, but we incurred a significant $50,000-$60,000 expense to build a loading dock on the City lot side. We also began to pay the City a yearly rental fee ($12,000 a year in 1998, which grew to $22,000 in 2017, the last full year we rented the lot directly from the City). But these have been good investments because access to the City lot has made our move to our current location viable. And for the past 22 years, we have safely received goods delivered to our store while providing access for parking for our shoppers and all of the businesses of Takoma Junction.
After approximately a 10-year absence from the TPSS Board, Adam was re-elected in 2014 and currently serves as Treasurer.