New Seward Co-op hit with 'gentrifier' slur and a list of demands

Neighborhood organizations argue many residents can't afford co-op goods and want a less-white staff.

Neighborhood organizations argue many residents can't afford co-op goods and want a less-white staff.

Who knew organic kale could be so controversial?

Next Tuesday, the Seward Co-op plans to open its "Friendship" store in south Minneapolis. But not everyone is thrilled about high-end produce coming to 38th Street and 3rd Avenue.

An online petition with more than 1,000 signatures bills the healthy-hippie grocer as a sign of gentrification and wants the co-op to negotiate a “community benefits agreement.” Launched by Marcus Harcus under the banner of the Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization (CANDO) and the Bryant Neighborhood Organization, the petition states that the co-op would be unaffordable to many residents and its staff would not reflect the neighborhood's diversity.

A Tuesday press conference was nixed hours ahead of time as the sides had yet to iron out certain details of a planned statement.

“A lot of us are very disappointed by the way it’s going,” Harcus says of the talks.

However Henry Jimenez, the Central neighborhood group’s executive director, sounded more upbeat.

“We want them to succeed, but we also need to take in mind that the community needs to do well,” he says. “We all need to do well together. I know that that’s an interest of the co-op and I do believe we can come to an agreement that benefits everybody.”

Jimenez declined to talk specifics amid ongoing negotiations, but says more info will come be available at a joint press conference tentatively scheduled for Friday.

The neighborhood groups’ proposal calls on Seward to double its membership discount for low-income residents, and set minority hiring goals and a $15 minimum wage. The draft — written without input from the co-op — would set product sourcing requirements and create an oversight council that could fine the store $1,000 per day if it slipped up.

Seward general manager Sean Doyle says he’s happy to work with the groups, but reluctant to use the proposal as a starting point. Taken as a whole, the financial consequences would be enough to sink the store, he says.

Still, Doyle says the co-op was already working toward similar goals internally. The Seward fairly recently upped its low-income discount and made a push to diversify its ranks at its Franklin Avenue location and new Co-op Creamery restaurant, where prices include built-in tips designed to help staff earn livable wages. Currently, more than 60 percent of Friendship store employees are people of color.

“Our mission is to sustain a healthy community,” he says. “We work towards building agreement more than anything else.”

While co-ops have gone from bohemian enterprise to foodie cachet, the longtime co-op worker says was surprised the Seward was pinned with the gentrification tag. Any time the co-op has moved or expanded, Doyle says there’s been some tension. Just not usually this much.

“We didn’t understand and realize the degree of concerns around” broader changes in the neighborhood, he says.