A few weeks ago, Weavers Way announced they are looking to expand again. The co-op has three locations but is looking to add their fourth in Germantown. With a hopeful 2022 launch, some neighbors have expressed excitement. But, one neighbor raises concerns about the expansion from a racial justice lens.
While the new location is still not public, the general manager of Weavers Way, Jon Roesser, says there are great new perks. These include about 5000 square feet of space, a parking lot, a freight elevator, and a loading dock. The GM says their new site would be larger than their flagship Mt. Airy store but smaller than their Ambler location. The store is also hopeful the new building will accommodate a rooftop farm.
Roesser says that a new location in Germantown “makes sense” because they already have about 1,100 co-op members in the neighborhood, making Germantown residents a large part of their consumer base. The GM acknowledged that a Weavers Way could benefit the neighbors, saying, “your quality of life improves when you’re within a fairly easy walking distance of a nice community market.”
When asked about the business expanding to Germantown, neighborhood native and founder of OURchive, Victor Jackson touched on this very sentiment–and he didn’t hold back.
“Y’all talk about Weavers Way and say that [Germantown] is a food desert, but it’s not for some of y’all,” says Jackson, pointing out the food inequity across the neighborhood. Germantown is noted for its food insecurity needs and says there’s a certain level of dishonesty amongst residents, especially the affluent, who endorse this expansion into the neighborhood.
GM Roesser says the location will be near Wissahickon and neighbors have speculated that the new building will be at Morris & Chelten. Neighbors suspect that it will be the old JEVS building, which has all the latest amenities that the co-op shared about the new location. That location is still one of the more affluent parts of the neighborhood, with two supermarkets, one produce market, and other popular retail chains within walking distance.
Victor talks about where Weavers Way could benefit the community and close food gaps, saying, “if we were really trying to solve a problem, a good place to put it would be on Germantown Ave, where the Dollar Tree was.” He also acknowledges that a vast majority of East Germantown is disregarded and never considered for these kinds of opportunities.
Another neighbor, Kayla Blackburn, says that the number of jobs that the co-op looks to bring could provide excellent opportunities for neighbors. They project forty-five jobs total and want to commit to hiring as local as possible, including a dedication to hiring Returning Citizens. Right now, the minimum wage for WW employees is $14 per hour, but they say that number should be $15 by the time of opening. 70% of potential hirees will be full-time (30 hours a week), qualifying them for health, dental, life, and disability benefits.
Victor Jackson says that $15 an hour is still not a livable wage for locals. According to data extracted from Zumper, there is validity in what he says. Before taxes, a full-time employee could make below $1800 a month. Right now, the average rent is as follows: studio for $860, 1-bedroom for $1,363, and 2-bedroom for $1,400. Even with a studio apartment, a local would have to use half of their earnings for living expenses, not including utilities, transportation, food, childcare, and other life essentials.
“I need to be sure the people who are doing this work are being paid properly, so I understand the value of what they’re doing,” says Victor, about the need to pay workers more.
He says that the responsible way, if any, to move into the neighborhood would be to restock their shelves with primarily Germantown-based vendor products. It seems that WW would agree, as Roesser says that they are looking to make sure their products come from a diverse selection of vendors, especially hyperlocal ones. He says that it is essential that the co-op “put their money where their mouth is” and show their dedication to the community.
The general manager says that about 90 cents go to paying vendors or employees for every dollar spent at the market.
Food activist Jackson says if neighbors and partners want to confront food gaps in the neighborhood, they must expand their sensibilities and actively engage with people and organizations already doing food justice work. He cites the weekly Germantown Farmers Market, Soil Generations, and Germantown Kitchen Farm as organizations that have consistently been trying to bring fresh food and produce to Germantown.
Jackson urges people to question what has changed within the last few years, saying that the co-op earlier rejected expansion into the neighborhood. He questions how committed they are to food equity, given his prior personal experience with Weavers Way. During the height of the pandemic, Jackson and other community members gave away free food. He says the co-op reached out to them on ways they could help, and their answer was simple–by providing food.
“We were given every answer except no or yes,” says the archivist, about the co-op’s failure to show up when presented the opportunity to help. He cited their ability to wait and see as a privilege, given many people’s socioeconomic disadvantage in the last year.
Jackson feels that to critically examine the strategic placement of the market, one would have to explore the violence, poverty, and inequity that Black and Brown Germantowners cope with every day. “But they’re not willing,” he says. “They would have to see the wholeness of Germantown. They would have to be willing to make all of Germantown safe, accessible, and to do the work.”
The co-op’s GM says he understands that there may be community concerns about making sure the new store really is community-owned and hopes the business can do its best to serve.
The Germantown Info Hub is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.