Keeping It Local
When Pogue's Run Grocer opened its doors in December 2010 on Indy's Near Eastside, its founders had a vision of providing natural, locally sourced foods to a predominately low-income community. Somewhere along the way, the vision became reality for the co-op grocery store – a reality to the tune of 520 supporting members and counting.
The store is located in what's known as the 10 East Business District, where signs of revitalization are springing up fast. New businesses and retailers have begun to put down roots in the neighborhood. Pogue's Run is Indianapolis' only co-op grocery store. And what exactly is a co-op grocery store? For starters, it's member-owned and anyone can join. Membership isn't required to shop, but it is encouraged for those who support the goals of the co-op and want to help it succeed. Members, who pay a one-time fee of $125, collectively own the store and participate along with board members in decisions that affect the business.
Indy Food Co-op, which aims to provide access to affordable healthy foods in urban Indianapolis, put almost four years into planning and securing members to invest in the nonprofit grocer and its community-minded concept.
Now with their first year behind them, the staff at Pogue's Run opens up about the trials and triumphs dotting the last 12 months. Nate Roberts, the store's general manager, slowly walks the length of the store, pointing out the variety of product brands and price tags. Lining the shelves are local labels from producers like Smoking Goose, the meat-curing arm of Indy's Goose the Market; Traders Point Creamery, a dairy producer in Zionsville; Fermenti Artisan, which ferments veggies grown on its Indy farm. The homegrown products share space with a range of other brands. Providing high-quality, local products is the mission of the co-op, but maintaining affordable prices is key. "We want to merge the gap between regular retailers and farmers' markets," Roberts says. "We don't want to alienate anyone based on what we carry. Our goal is to be fair and even."
That's not to say there weren't growing pains in getting there. "When we first opened, the milk we were stocking was $8 a gallon," says Renee Sweany, marketing manager for Pogue's Run. "With prices like that, we definitely lost some customers off the bat. And I get that."
Sweany says they were eventually able to begin selling organic milk for $3.89, on par with most other grocery stores.
"It's a learning experience," she says. Despite early hiccups, the grocer has seen speedy growth since then, celebrating success of their ongoing goal to bring what Sweany calls "real food" to the neighborhood.
For Sweany, the difference between a co-op and a typical grocery store comes down to connection. Situated on a stretch of East 10th Street that's undergoing redevelopment as part of the Super Bowl Legacy Project, Pogue's Run is providing the immediate neighborhood with more than just fresh, organic food.
"The money you spend in a co-op supporting local producers stays in your community and uplifts it," Sweany says.
Much of the food comes from sources nearby, connecting local producers with consumers and the community as a whole. Considered a full-service grocery store, Pogue's Run offers much of what a larger store would offer, albeit on a smaller scale and with an emphasis on environmentally friendly products. Customers can find fresh produce (locally sourced when possible from organic growers like South Circle Farm, located two miles south of downtown), meats, cheeses, frozen foods and paper or cleaning products, along with a broad selection of bulk spices and dry goods. Buying in bulk, Sweany points out, is better for the environment because it cuts down on packaging, and is less expensive when you buy only what you need.
The store also features a deli serving freshly prepared sandwiches and soups. Lunch specials are offered on weekdays and there's plenty of seating in the cafe area, where shoppers can grab a cup of Jameson Coffee, roasted in Greencastle. Chef Luke Caenepeel keeps the lunch crowd happy with sandwiches and wraps running the gamut from vegan Reubens to roast beef with horseradish cheddar, keeping in step with the co-op's mission to serve local ingredients wherever possible. And it's this philosophy that is keeping Indy's only co-op grocer humming. Looking ahead, Indy Co-op's long-term goals include opening more stores in other areas of town.
"But for now," Sweany says, "we want to focus on Pogue's Run and continuing to fuel this community."
5 Tips from the Inside
• Bulk spices and dry goods like quinoa and pasta are offered at great prices. Bags are available, but cut down on packaging even further by bringing in your own containers.
• Pogue's Run carries plenty of specialty items for restricted diets. Look for gluten-free, dairy-free and soy-based products.
• Lunch specials are offered M–F from 11am to 2pm and include your choice of sandwich, soup or chips and a drink for $6.99. (Hint: The Tuscan Turkey sandwich is a customer favorite.)
• The deli now offers catering services. A catering menu is posted on www.poguesrungrocer.org.
• Members who volunteer two hours per month at the store earn a 10% discount.