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'It just needs an opportunity': Is it time for Louisville's first co-op grocery store?

Can Louisville turn a vacant lot into a remarkable asset?

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — At Finzer and Jackson is the site of the old Hillerich and Bradsby baseball bat factory, now just wide open concrete in Louisville's Smoketown neighborhood.

Now the stage is set for this property to fill the longstanding dreams, and the hope of many in Louisville who have never given up on a grocery store cooperative.

They look at the Good Foods Co-op in Lexington, Kentucky's oldest co-op which is celebrating 50 years. It was started by a group of University of Kentucky students in the activist era of the early 1970s.

“This is a community hub," General Manager Rob Walker said. "You will see multi-millionaires here, you also see people on government assistance here and they all come here around one thing: good food.”

Walker, who started at Good Foods Co-op in 2010, told WHAS11 News that a majority of the produce “is pulled right out of the ground in Casey County, KY by a central Kentucky farmer. Out of the ground yesterday, delivered for sale today.”

RELATED: 'We need it at this end of town': Smoketown looking forward to community grocery store

He said 45% of the Lexington store is made up of local products.

So, what's the key here? Why has Lexington had a successful co-op for 50 years and not Louisville? 

Walker is also shocked.

“I've been to Louisville, I know the community would truly support it if it was there, it just needs an opportunity and a chance to grow within your city," he said.

At Good Foods, people buy yard signs that say they shop there. Walker said that’s a big key. 

“The co-op is owned by the members of the community and that is why we are successful,” he added.

Buy-in is already what’s happening in Louisville, according to Cassia Herron of the Louisville Association for Community Economics (LACE).

“The message to the community is we can do this together,” Herron said.

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Her grassroots effort has been busy, with early research. She never gave up and knows everything about the Smoketown lot.

Some of the feedback she's heard is that neighbors want Jackson Street to be the front door and they want to keep some of the trees near the property.

"So I’ve envisioned a garden with picnic tables, a really welcoming space," she said.

The Louisville co-op will be called “Louisville Community Grocery” when it’s built.

“I want you to see fresh and healthy food, fruits and vegetables people are asking for meat and seafood," LACE Treasurer Amanda Fuller said.

LACE was just gifted one acre of the two-acre Smoketown lot. 

She’ll soon be negotiating with the city for $3.5 million to "open and operate a community grocery in an underserved community."

“We want 2,000 owners of the Louisville Community Grocery before we open," Herron said. "We’ve had a soft launch, we have a property now, so folks know it's real.”

RELATED: Plans to bring community-owned grocery store, housing to Smoketown

Louisville Community Grocery is selling shares of the co-op at $150 a share while Good Foods sells shares at $200 a piece. But what does that mean?

"With a co-op the money stays in the community to help grow the community," Walker said.

Jacob Sherman and fiancé Katie Grubb are loyal shoppers at Good Foods. Grubb bought shares "because it helps support the co-op."

Sherman loves the co-op because it feels like his money is going back into the community he cares about.

That's what Louisville is getting ready prove. Can Louisville turn a vacant lot into a remarkable asset?

If LACE wins the $3.5 million from Louisville Metro, there’s still a long haul. They need $4 million more to get the store open.

You can purchase a share on Louisville Community Grocery's website.

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