South Carolina's First Food Co-op Now Open in Spartanburg

The city of Spartanburg has been waiting for several years while a group of dedicated individuals worked to bring Hub City Co-op into being—an all-natural, community-owned grocery store on North Liberty Street downtown.

After an initial meeting in 2009 to talk about bringing a co-op to Spartanburg, the effort got underway in earnest in 2010 with an all-volunteer start-up board and volunteer committees focusing on marketing, selling ownerships, finances, and the physical store. The board members educated themselves about co-ops, visiting successful ones and attending conferences and seminars, and bringing back what they learned to educate the community.

Farm-to-table events at local restaurants, crop mobs, farm tours, and other events involved the community, raised money and awareness for the co-op, and highlighted the numerous local farms whose wares might someday stock the shelves of the store.

The desire for a co-op in Spartanburg stemmed from different places for different people: a commitment to local food, the absence of a grocery store in the downtown area, and having the first food co-op in the state.

Life-long Spartanburg resident Celia Cooksey was the very first owner to put her money into the venture. “I went to a meeting at the library early on, and there were half a dozen people up there talking who were willing to put their time on the line. It seemed like writing a check for $150 was something I could do,” she says. “I try to grow at least some of our food, we support the farmers market, we’ve done CSAs [community supported agriculture], so why wouldn’t I want another option?”

Cooksey’s husband Randy is a downtown property manager with 120 downtown residents, so having a downtown grocery store is something he feels strongly about too.

It was important to the start-up board that adequate funding, the right location, and the knowledge of how to run a co-op well were prerequisites for being ready to open the store—not a calendar date, which could have resulted in feeling undue pressure.

An existing building was chosen on the corner of North Liberty and East St. John Streets—a repurposed building was one of the criteria that owners and the board felt strongly about—and although the location was ideal, the building needed a lot of work to bring it from a dilapidated former tire store to a full-service grocery store.

In 2014, the city pledged to match $350,000 if the co-op raised the same amount from the owners, and that challenge was met in January of 2015. Ownership shares, investments, donations, and loans combined to fund the venture, and the store opened in April of this year. Fundraisers like purchasing engraved bricks for the front walk and recruitment drives that rewarded owners with $50 or $100 gift cards for recruiting 5 or 10 new owners all contributed to the kind of owner involvement that was required to secure the final funding from the Northcountry Cooperative Development Fund, a nationally known lender dealing exclusively with co-op businesses.

The last piece of the puzzle was finding the right person for the general manager position. Garland McQueen has thirty years of grocery store experience, with twelve of those years in co-ops. Specifically, his co-op experience is in opening a store and getting it up and running, putting a team in place, and training his replacement. McQueen is a Clemson graduate, so the idea of bringing the first co-op to South Carolina appealed to him.

Marketing manager Keysie Maddox says, “I didn’t know how we were going to find the right people, but people came to us.” Operations manager Mandy Musgrove, for one: She had 11 years’ experience at Whole Foods, and Maddox praises her commitment to quality products but also making sure customers find what they need.

Six weeks in, the co-op board and staff are pleased with how things are going. “We’re dealing with seven years of expectations shoved into six weeks,” Musgrove says, but she is pleased to have such an engaged customer base in the co-op’s owners. Maddox says the customers who come in the store every day are about half owners and half non-owners.

Currently, the co-op is just shy of 1,700 owners, but once shoppers become aware of the perks of ownership—owner discount days on the first and third Wednesday of the month and dividends that are paid out according to the amount owners spend each month—that number is expected to grow.  Click here for more about how the co-op works differently from other grocery stores—or better yet, stop by.

Photos courtesy of Hub City Co-op.

Sharon Purvis is a freelance writer and editor who makes her home with her husband in Duncan, South Carolina. You can find more of her work at