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Proposed Williamsville co-op market seeks IDA grant to maintain momentum

Plans to open a co-operative market in Williamsville are moving ahead, but any store opening is at least five years away as the volunteers behind the effort seek to raise more money and build more support for the project.

The leaders of the group that is pushing to build the Village Co-Op Market of Williamsville on Friday said they've signed up 55 members so far.

They said they would need at least 800 members before they could finalize an agreement for the location of the co-op. To reach that level of membership, co-op board members said they need to produce a feasibility study that would show how it makes sense to proceed and would help them sell the public on the idea.

"Yes, it's going to be a grocery store, but it's going to be more than a grocery store," said Jim Walfrand, co-op board president.

Three co-op volunteers met with the Amherst Industrial Development Agency board of directors on Friday to seek $5,000 from the agency to help pay for the feasibility study and for a consultant who would help them act on the study's findings.

The co-op already has received $7,000 from Erie County to help pay for the study. Walfrand put the cost of the study and hiring the consultant at $12,000.

The co-op volunteers started working together last April, and incorporated their organization in September. A membership drive began in earnest in November.

The group has identified a number of potential locations but will wait for the feasibility study to focus the selection of a site.

The co-op board has received guidance from the leaders of the East Aurora Co-Op, which opened in 2016, and the Lexington Co-Op, which has two locations now.

"It is going to happen. It's going to take time. It certainly is a labor of love," said co-op board member Lynn Schwab.

IDA board members said they will consider the funding request at their February meeting.

But they cautioned the co-op volunteers that Williamsville and Amherst are different from East Aurora and Buffalo, where grocery store competition is limited. IDA Treasurer Steven Sanders mentioned the glut of grocery stores in the Sheridan Drive-Niagara Falls Boulevard corridor and wondered how the co-op would stand out.

"That's my concern," Sanders said.

Walfrand and Schwab said they believe the co-op can succeed if it is positioned as a member-owned community asset that offers specialized services, such as nutrition training, cooking classes and locally produced food. They also said the co-op will add to, and benefit from, ongoing efforts to make Williamsville a more walkable community.

It's a grocery war in Amherst, with 8 stores in 1.5 miles

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