Wheatsville Co-op has taken the step of expanding beyond the campus area. The first, long-desired and eagerly-awaited new Wheatsville location at 4001 South Lamar will open this Friday morning, Sept. 19, at 7:30am.
An official ribbon-cutting ceremony will take place at 7:15am, after which Wheatsville will be offering a free cup of Fair Trade coffee to all customers until noon.
"With this expansion, we will be able to create more local, organic, sustainable food, more co-op economy, and more happy people! That's the reason we're in business – and we couldn't be happier seeing our BIG Direction vision become a reality,” says General Manager Dan Gillotte.
Wheatsville, Austin’s original grocery co-op just north of campus on Guadalupe Street, has thrived ever since it's doors opened in 1975. Co-operative organizations for both housing and food distribution were revolutionary ideas born of the Great Depression that experienced a resurgence in popularity during the late Sixties and early Seventies. Both eras were times that American workers grew disenchanted with the unrestrained, winner-takes-all brand of capitalism that has historically caused great suffering when used as a metric to distribute necessities, such as food and shelter.
Students at the University of Texas have always been quick to appreciate the benefits of co-ops, and UT boasts many housing co-ops (such as the Taos Co-op and the network of College Houses) as well as the famous University Co-op where most students purchase their textbooks. Wheatsville Co-op began as an all-volunteer food distribution co-op, that over the years grew into a reliable and popular grocery owned wholly by its customers. One thing the co-operative model did not, sadly, include was any idea of expansion beyond the original store, which was set up primarily for the benefit of UT students living in co-operative housing. As generations of students graduated and left the campus area, Wheatsville lost older members to distance, as far-flung members lost easy access to the grocery store they loved.
The governing board did not realize just how popular their co-operative grocery was with generations of Austinites until the original store needed remodeling and expansion. The money was raised quickly and easily from existing members of the Co-op, causing the board to consider that perhaps the store could expand to other areas of Austin where desire ran high for additional Wheatsville locations. The first of these new locations is the 4001 South Lamar store. Wheatsville has completely remodeled a large portion of the northern end of the shopping center near the intersection of South Lamar and Ben White. Using the experience gained in the expansion of the original store, the run-down shopping space has been transformed into a sleek, state-of-the-art, natural wood and stainless steel grocery store.
Fifty percent larger than the Guadalupe Wheatsville, the new south store will house an in-house, scratch bakery where artisan breads will be baked. It will also have a much expanded deli, and will have a community meeting space to be used for various purposes, including cooking classes and other demonstrations. The new store will also boast comfortable indoor/outdoor cafe seating, large skylights that allow natural light into the store, locally made Kombucha and Maine Root sodas on tap, cruelty-free wellness products, and sustainably harvested seafood. But best of all, the new outlet has the same mission as the original store: It will be a member-owned, co-operative grocery store, one with support of our local community as it’s prime directive. Planning is underway for a future North Austin location, as well. As a long-time Wheatsville fan, I'll be shopping at the new store and will report back on my experience in the coming weeks.
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