City Life

In Germantown’s Food Desert a New Co-op Blooms

May 31, 2024 | by Stacia Friedman

The new Weavers Way Co-op food market at 328 W. Chelten Avenue. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Weavers Way Co-op opened the doors to its fourth location on May 15. The new food market in Germantown will undoubtedly take the pressure off its smallest location in Mt. Airy, where squeezing through an aisle requires the agility of a contortionist. The 6,000 square foot space at 328 W. Chelten Avenue is large enough for customers to do wheelies with their shopping carts. It also break the barrier in one of Philadelphia’s many food deserts where a 2023 study found that 29.8 percent of residents experience food insecurity.

Until now, there has been nowhere in Germantown to purchase organic, locally grown produce, organic meats, and vegan and vegetarian products. True, there is a Save-A-Lot, a Dollar Store, and the Chelten IGA supermarket just down the street. However, judging by Yelp reviews of all three, they leave much to be desired for consumers. And while A&N House of Produce a mile away offers rock bottom prices, none if its produce is organic and far from locally grown.

“Market studies have shown that the Germantown community has a tremendous amount of ‘food dollar leakage’,” said Weavers Way general manager, Jon Roesser. “80 percent of food consumed at home, regardless of the family’s income, is being purchased outside of the neighborhood.”

The grocery shopping habits of Harry Saffren, a Germantown resident since 1978, are common. “I shop at Costco in Plymouth Meeting, Trader Joe’s in Fairmount, and ShopRite in Hunting Park,” he said. “With Weavers Way a half block from my house, I’ll be able to walk there every day and decide what I want for dinner.”

Throughout the 1950s, Chelten Avenue was a grocery mecca with a thriving Food Fair, Penn Fruit, and Acme. In a stroke of poetic justice, the new Germantown Weavers Way will be located at the site of the old Acme, which closed in 1972. Until 2015, the property served as JEVS Human Services. The building has sat vacant since.

An Acme Markets grocery store, seen here in 1964, occupied 328 W. Chelten Avenue until 1972. | Photo courtesy of PhillyHistory.org

While the residential real estate market has picked up in Germantown, and there are a number of examples of revitalization, the arrival of Weavers Way is something of an outlier. To succeed, it has to cut across all of the neighborhood’s diverse demographics, from residents of Alden Park to college students and middle class families to the retired elderly and the working poor.

Camille Poinvil, Weavers Way’s Germantown planning and outreach coordinator, isn’t leaving this up to chance. For two years, along with manager James Mitchell, she has been laying the groundwork. “I’ve been hosting community events and workshops on mushroom cultivation and how to buy a house,” said Poinvil. “I also have a table at various community events and canvasing door to door.” The feedback has been enthusiastic. “People love the idea of the community ‘owning’ their own grocery store,” said Poinvil. “We’re not Whole Foods. When you become a co-op member you are an owner. You have more power with Weavers Way than you would have with any privately-owned market.”

The Germantown store carries many of the same products found in our other Weavers Way locations, but it will also feature products made in Germantown, including Ethiopian bread and lentils from Salam Cafe, Merzbacher’s bread, Ultimo coffee, and meat products from Ed Hipp in Olney.

Like all other Weavers Way locations, it accepts EBT cards and offer a variety of discounts to low-income shoppers and seniors. If new customers take advantage of a co-op membership, they will also see costs reduced by the many different discounts available to cardholders. Just like chain supermarkets, the co-op also offers weekly deals. The new Germantown store has also applied for WIC certification, a federal program that provides free nutritional food for pregnant women and mothers of infants.

While most Philly co-ops get their produce local farmers, Weaver’s Way has its own farms– one at Awbury Arboretum and the other at Saul Agricultural High School. However, right next to its organic produce, the co-op also offer natural produce at lower prices to appeal to customers on a budget. 

Re:Vision Architecture exposed beams and brick and retained the original terrazzo floor in its redesign of the former Acme grocery store. | Photo: Michael Bixler

Re:Vision Architecture in Manayunk, a firm that focuses on sustainability, took the lead in repurposing the former Acme. “It’s such a perfect building for Weavers Way,” said Scott Kelly, founding principle of Re:Vision Architecture. “After the Acme closed, the next occupant carved up the inside into offices so you couldn’t see the original structure. Everything in the middle came out. We brought it back to its original 1950s glory, including the exposed brick masonry.”

“We understand issues society faces on climate change,” Kelly said. “We don’t waste. We repurpose. Rather than tear down, we renovate.” This includes preserving the Acme’s original terrazzo floor and freight elevator. Tipping their hat to the past, the font chosen for the sign on the front of the Germantown store is intended to mimic the building’s old Acme signage.

“We added “Food Market” to the outside of our stores to make it clearer to passersby who we are. Over the years, many people have been confused by our name, thinking we are some sort of weavers guild,” said Roesser. “Our goal is to create a clean, welcoming grocery. We want everyone to feel like it is their co-op.”



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About the Author

Stacia Friedman is a Philadelphia freelance writer and visual artist who tried New York and Los Angeles on for size and came home to roost. Her articles have appeared in WHYY’s Newsworks, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The New York Times, Broad Street Review, and Chestnut Hill Local. She loves the city’s architecture, history, and vibrant arts scene.

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