Willy Street Co-op West – different street name, same neighborhood store

by Hannah McClung

J335 Fall ’10

Willy Street Co-op west opened its doors last week to the Middleton community that is ready to embrace the store’s sustainable efforts, local products and community involvement.

The co-op’s flagship store is located in the Williamson-Atwood neighborhood on Madison’s east side. The neighborhood grocery store was owned by more than 20,500 members with just over 15 percent driving from Madison’s far west side to shop, which prompted talk of expansion.

The Co-op board proposed opening a second location to the members six years ago and after two previous attempts, the Middleton location on University Avenue was chosen because of its accessibility and ability to serve existing members.

“Willy West opening is a very exciting development for Middleton,” said Mike Davis, Middleton city administrator. “It provides us with a second full grocery store and they’re interested in being involved in the community and promoting sustainable practices and purchasing.”

According to Davis, the second location is more convenient for Co-op members who live and work on the west side.

Stacey Bohachek, a teacher who lives in Cross Plains and works in Middleton, walked over from Middleton High School to check out the new addition to the neighborhood.

“I came over for lunch because some other teachers were talking about the deli,” Bohachek said. “There are a lot of options and according to the signs, the menu changes weekly.”

Bohachek had never been to the east side location but after sampling the Co-op’s vegetarian Reuben sandwich and split pea soup, planned on joining.

“It would be a long drive for major shopping but it will be great to be able to pick up things on the way home and have the deli as a lunch option,” Bohachek said.

“We received more than 200 e-mails from members who lived in Middleton asking us to open the second location in their neighborhood,” said Brendon Smith, Willy Street Co-op communication manager.“We’ve had a lot of people join since opening, including over 260 on opening day.”

Brennan’s Market, also located on University Avenue, is the Co-op’s closest competitor but welcomes the addition.

“We wish them the best of luck with their new location,” said Thea Miller, Brennan’s product manager.

“Whenever you get a new competitor coming into your market you have concerns, but we don’t have any bad feelings about them coming into the area.”

According to Miller, Brennan’s and Willy Street Co-op are very different options for Middleton residents.

“We don’t sell traditional grocery items like they do,” said Miller. “We’re more of a specialty market so our customers will probably shop at both locations.”

According to Smith, there is a surcharge for shopping at the Co-op but that fee is waived at the west side location through the end of the year to encourage prospective members to shop.

“We don’t want [the surcharge] to seem like a barrier,” Smith said. “We want people to come in and check it out, and to feel comfortable shopping.”

Davis said Middleton residents will shop during the “gratis” period to decide whether or not to join.

“After they’ve tried it out they will probably join, especially people who live close to the store,” Davis said.

Willy Street Co-op has a Community Investment Fund that offers grants to local non-profit organizations. With the opening of the second location, the Co-op Board added $5,000 to the fund and now offers $500 – $2,000 individual grants for a total of $20,000 a year.

According to Davis, the Co-op started donating to Middleton charities and organizations before it opened the second location.

According to Smith, the west side location, in addition to being larger and offering more parking than the east side location, has an expanded deli, hot self-service station, local beer and wine selection, and an on-site butcher.

There is also a community room where members can take classes like gluten-free cooking, raw foods preparation and nutritional consultations. The community room can also be rented out by local organizations.

An individual co-op membership is $10 a year for seven years or $58 one-time payment. A family co-op membership is $15 a year for seven years or a $93 one-time payment.

According to Smith, there are also options and discounts offered for families on federal or state assistance programs.

Written for an intermediate reporting class Fall 2010.

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