A fire outside the beloved Bushwick Food Coop burst the shop’s storefront window in the early morning of July 3. After shattering the glass, the heat seeped into the building and activated overhead sprinklers, causing thousands of dollars worth of smoke and water damage. Three months after the incident, Bushwick Food Coop is still trying to reopen, but the process is slow and painful. Having raised just $11,000 of its $60,000 fundraising goal, there’s still a long way to go.
As funding slows and days pass by with the doors closed, many challenges and conversations have arisen behind the scenes. Fran Sanhueza, the general manager of the coop, told Bedford + Bowery she hopes it will reopen within a month. But with the opening comes questions about the coop’s future. Many employees and members are considering the fire an opportunity to move the store completely.
Immediately Garnett, Sanhueza and others started working to fix the damage. People on the scene spent several days taking pictures of the destruction, marking down inventory and trying to clean as much as they could. Many hoped the shop could reopen in a month, but it had never faced such a daunting disaster.
The coop had several “fire sales” to raise money and get rid of goods they couldn’t store . They set up the GoFundMe and filed their first insurance claim. Now, the immediate problems have been taken care of, and the coop is waiting for its insurance company to process its paperwork. The tentative one month reopening date is dependent on the insurance company. While they wait, the coop still faces many challenges.
The biggest issue is the conversation around whether the coop should move. Sarah Overholt, vice president of the board of directors, said these relocation talks have been going on for years, but they’ve gained traction after the fire. “There’s nothing firm yet but there is a coalescing idea that [moving] can be a next step, both in terms of recovery and growth for the organization,” Overholt said. However, she doesn’t want the coop to make any rash decisions. They have to be responsible, even if it’s maddeningly slow. “It’s still ‘let’s open first and then talk about the move.’”
On the other hand, Jessica Balnaves is spearheading the effort to move, as the newly appointed head of the relocation committee. A former manager of the coop and member for over eight years, Balnaves has been vocal about moving the coop. “The location that we’re in does not fully benefit what we could potentially be,” Balnaves said. “If we have to rebuild—which is what we have to do—let’s rebuild in a space that is better for us.”
Although there’s no timetable for when the coop will make their decision, relocation would be an enormous change for the shop and its members. “My main concern is that this is what the coop ownership wants,” Balnaves said. “We’re a democracy at the coop, we’re not going to do anything that the ownership does not want us to do.”
Beyond relocation talks, the coop is working to keep their tight-knit community active even though the shop’s doors are closed. Backyard barbeques and field trips to farms have helped, but members and employees alike miss bonding over their grocery lists.
Above all, members and shoppers of the Bushwick Food Coop should remain hopeful. The store is working as hard as it can to reopen, and reopen better than ever. “We’re not giving up,” Sanhueza said. “We’re not closed, and we have not thrown in the towel yet.”