In this article, and in a number of other places on our website there is discussion of the RCC grocery store and its significance in our work. As of January 25, 2019, the RCC has closed its doors after struggling for over two years to begin making adequate progress toward profitability. The RCC was an important part of F4DC’s work, and its failure has been a painful reminder of the difficulties that we face. The retail landscape has shifted and even giants that were a part of our life for years, like Sears, are no longer viable. We do not endorse the notion that the failure of RCC indicates the failure of cooperative community development to be an important tool in building sustainable, democratic community owned structures to meet our needs. We see the RCC’s closure as a cautionary tale of how serious and difficult our work will be in building the necessary structures to guarantee our future successes. In the near future we are looking to share a more developed reflection on lessons learned. In the meantime, we will leave in place our story of the RCC as it developed.
Since 2011, F4DC has actively supported the people of Northeast Greensboro, as they organize, learn, and struggle toward self-determination. We are the main technical assistance provider for the Renaissance Community Cooperative (RCC), a full-service community owned grocery store that opened in 2016 in what had been a food desert for 18 years. We now look to a future in which the community surrounding the RCC is a focal point of understanding and proliferating cooperative economic development.
F4DC contacted community leaders in 2011 to share the possibilities of a cooperative solution to their problem which had been the focus of organizing and advocacy efforts since the Winn Dixie store closed in that neighborhood in 1998. We met with people and organized a field trip to a Burlington, NC where a new food cooperative had recently opened. That trip sparked considerable interest and led to a commitment from a group of community members who would become champions of the project.
Beginning with passing-the-hat among residents in community meetings, F4DC joined in with the community to help secure the $2.5 million needed to open the store. This required developing relationships with another national cooperative lender (Shared Capital Cooperative) and work with a number of individuals with access to family wealth who were able to invest in a non-extractive loan administered by SRLF. People with smaller nest eggs also provided owner loans. Many community partners also made grants and donations, notably the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro, the City of Greensboro, Cone Health Foundation, Self-Help Ventures Fund, Starmount Presbyterian Church, and Mount Zion Baptist Church. All these funds added to the strength of the more than 1,300 families who each bought $100 shares in the store.
It took five years of community organizing, political struggle, business planning, and fundraising, but it all came together in the fall of 2016, when the store opened its doors to the public. With more than 1,300 owners and sixteen workers, the RCC is now serving the neighborhood. The RCC is 100% owned and controlled by its community—one household-one share-one vote—so it will never pick up and leave seeking a higher return on investment elsewhere. This video from 2013 gives some sense of the powerful motivation driving the community to make the RCC come to life.
While it still faces challenges in getting its revenues up to the needed level, RCC is one of the first food cooperatives in modern history to be organized in a predominately black working class food desert community and is serving as a model for similar communities across the nation. F4DC continues to support the store with working capital and technical assistance as it struggles to reach profitability. And we’re working with young organizers from the area to see how they want to build on the ideas and strength of the coop to make Northeast Greensboro a place that helps them lead productive, meaningful lives.