FARGO - Prairie Roots Food Co-op, a natural foods grocery store on the west side of downtown Fargo, is facing serious financial difficulties, with a capital campaign drive underway to raise $250,000 by Sept. 1.
Arlette Preston, the president of the co-op’s board of directors, said Thursday, Aug. 8, that the co-op owes suppliers $180,000.
“The $250,000 is to pay off accounts payable and give us some breathing room to move forward,” Preston said.
An email sent out Wednesday, Aug. 7, and shared on the social media site Reddit, said, “The financial and operational needs of the Co-op are pressing. The accounts payable has increased dramatically over the past eight months and our debt service and business overhead is affecting cash flow as well as the ability to stock shelves and maintain operations.”
Preston said monthly operating losses for the co-op store, located at 1213 Northern Pacific Ave., have not only been accumulating, but worsening, since it opened two years ago.
“The grocery business is a competitive one,” Preston said. And the last two years “have been challenging by all means.”
- With a little cluck, Brew Bird will open in early September; 701 restaurant nearer to start of construction
“In order to kick-start the campaign, the Board, along with loans from family members, has raised the first $60,000,” the email said. “Member owners are being asked to step forward and be present in this time of need to help secure loans for the remaining $190,000.
“We acknowledge this is a heavy lift, but we see this as the strongest path forward to create a future for Fargo-Moorhead’s only community-owned grocery co-op,” the email said.
The cooperative is getting a new general manager, Eric Wenaas. He starts Aug. 19.
“We’re excited about the new general manager. He comes with lots of experience in the grocery business,” Preston said.
Previous general manager Trae Long resigned, Preston said. She said there were no issues of any financial impropriety tied to his resignation.
Preston said the board of directors now has considerable business experience in place, and “we’ve been able to put into place a plan that will get us out of this and get us into a place of sustainability.”
In the past “when the store has been in trouble, there hasn’t been a solid enough plan,” she said. “What we need right now is the financial capital.”
Preston said that once the co-op's finances are stabilized and the new manager is in place, more focus can be put on stabilizing the staff and getting the store’s inventory property managed.
She said “a more thoughtful approach to marketing” is also important.
“The grocery business is competitive and we have to be visible to the public,” Preston said.
“We’ve been conversing with the vendors, as well” and feel good about getting things paid off and moving forward, she said.
Preston said the Sept. 1 date is not a hard deadline for all of the funding to be in place.
“We are all feeling like the store is starting to turn around already,” Preston said. "Hopefully, we’ll start to see the sales pick up. We hope the community understands that we need shoppers.”
Preston said the store is “a little bit of a jewel” for the downtown neighborhood.
“The board is absolutely determined” to make Prairie Roots a success, she said. “We’ll come out of this and be stronger on the other end. It’s a place where we just need some breathing room. And we’re hoping that the community will come forward with some assistance.”