Just a little over two weeks after the announcement that Earth Fare will close all of its stores, a plan to convert the West Ashley grocery store into a co-op is gaining steam among some in Charleston.

“Operation Cooperation,” led by local lawyer and activist Renee Orth, says that adapting the Folly Road grocery store into a food cooperative, a consumer-owned business managed by those who use it, would put more local food on shelves.

“From the customer’s perspective, it wouldn’t be necessarily dramatically different from shopping at Earth Fare,” she says. “Most cooperative grocery stores these days function like a full-service grocery store that has a focus on more local produce, local ingredients, and has a bid toward health food.”

The deadline to bid for the property has not been determined, but according to Orth, it will be sometime in mid March. Whoever is successful in their bid for the building will takeover the existing lease, which expires in 2033, according to a bankruptcy court filing. The property’s rent and common area maintenance total a little over $40,000 per month.

Orth says that the group would need to find a “heroic buyer” who can purchase the property and hold the assets while the co-op is forming, but has not yet decided whether it will put together a serious bid. “It’s a big ask,” she says. “There are definitely potential options if that doesn’t happen.” There is currently no estimated amount for the bid.

The wellness-focused, Asheville-based chain Earth Fare announced at the beginning of the month that it would close all locations, which include two in the Lowcountry and four others in South Carolina. Earth Fare on Folly Road will close permanently on Tues. March 3.

Orth previously ran for mayor of Charleston in 2019 and helped create the Stone Soup Collective, a community group that helps feed those in need.

The idea has “sparked a lot of enthusiasm,” Orth says. She is hopeful that a co-op can spring up somewhere else, if not with Operation Cooperation.

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