Washington-Based Credit Union Helps Make Grocery Store a Reality
Newrizons Federal Credit Union stepped in to help two entrepreneurs solve a food desert problem in Copalis Beach, Washington.
Credit unions make it a priority to help their communities. When residents of Copalis Beach, Washington, were struggling to access fresh, healthy food, Newrizons Federal Credit Union stepped in to help make Copalis Beach Grocery a reality.
For several years, citizens of Copalis Beach in Grays Harbor County, Washington, had been experiencing somewhat of a food desert. The one place to get fresh produce was at Voss Acres Produce Market, a passion project of Sharon and Steve Voss, who sold fresh fruits and vegetables handpicked from their own organic garden. Sharon and Steve built the market out of their home — a historic site that had once been a train depot and post office for Copalis Crossing.
One day, Steve Voss drove by a rundown property off Washington State Route 109 that Newrizons had listed for sale. A former Newrizons member who owned the property had recently passed away and left the building abandoned, in poor condition.
But Steve didn’t care about how it looked; having been a carpenter for 40 years, he knew he could strip it down and flip it. When his wife, Sharon, joined him at the site, one thing suddenly became very clear.
“We were standing there and watching cars go by, and I said, ‘Wow, highway 109 is a whole lot busier than Ocean Beach Road near the produce market,” recalls Sharon.
Sharon knew the community needed more than what they could find at Voss Acres Produce Market. The nearest town in one direction was nearly 15 miles away; the nearest grocery store in another direction was even further.
“It kind of opened up my eyes to how lacking that area was for fresh food,” she said. “I started to hear voices in my head of all my customers over the years — they wished I had more things at the produce market, but I couldn’t have a grocery store there because of the open-air concept … and the health department doesn’t fly with that.”
The dilapidated property was nearly 550 square feet larger than the produce market. Sharon saw an opportunity.
“I said, ‘Gosh, Steve, I think we should keep the place.’ And he goes, ‘What in the heck would you do with it?’” Sharon remembers. “I said, ‘This area needs a grocery store.’”
Three years of hard work later, with Sharon and Steve paying for repairs and restoration out of pocket, Copalis Beach Grocery started to take shape. But after three months of unsuccessfully applying for a loan to secure a few high-ticket items through a bank, Sharon wrote a letter to Ynette Gibbs, CEO at Newrizons, and crossed her fingers.
“How difficult do you think it would it be to borrow $70,000 to finish Copalis Beach Grocery?” Sharon wrote, citing thorough business analysis, projected gross revenue, and the value the grocery would bring to the community.
Newrizons was immediately on board, knowing Steve and Sharon’s reputation as two entrepreneurs who were determined to positively impact the community.
“They already had a very good history with us and shared a goal with Newrizons to revitalize the area and take down an eyesore, so we were all-in,” said Gibbs. “We actually were fairly creative in the way we approached it. We did some financing for them as individuals, not as a business. Then we did another home equity line of credit that took some of their land as an investment and the valuation on the new building and did that business loan.”
Copalis Beach Grocery opened in the summer of 2016 and stocks various fridge and pantry staples, like bread, milk, beans, beer, wine, and basic household items, in addition to fresh produce, either picked straight from the Vosses’ 2,000-square-foot organic garden or imported from Seattle. The grocery is open from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m., allowing customers more time to get their groceries after a busy workday, and remains open on major holidays. The Vosses give grocery employees those days off, covering shifts themselves.
“People are stressed during the holidays. If they need to come in to gather one more ingredient, Steve and I are here for them,” Sharon said. “And, in a lot of cases, some people may not have a family network; coming to the store and visiting with us might be the highlight of their holiday.”
The hard work and dedication to customer service paid off in a big way. Copalis Beach Grocery made $565,948 in gross revenue its first full year, surpassing Sharon’s initial prediction in her letter to Newrizons. Revenue reached $671,000 the following year, and the rapid growth is expected to continue.
“We were fortunate for Newrizons to see the vision in what the community needed there,” Sharon said.
It just goes to show that anything is possible when credit unions partner with local businesses to make a difference in their communities.
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