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Weavers Way co-op keeps growing with new store in Ambler

Philly's biggest co-op opens its biggest store ever.
Ambler store manager Kathryn Worley, left, and Weavers Way general manager Jon Roesser inside the brand new Weavers Way location in Ambler. (Sam Newhouse)

Weavers Way, a food co-operative and Philly institution, has finally made the jump from the cramped city stores that are part of its identity to a suburban grocery store where customers can pilot their carts through wide aisles with ease. But the core day-to-day challenges of running a member-owned, co-operative grocery store with socially progressive aims and high standards for food quality tend to stay the same wherever you are.

"I've got a dilemma right here," said Jon Roesser, general manager for Weavers Way at their newest location in Ambler, while clutching a bunch of fair-trade bananas. "We charge 99 cents a pound for bananas. Bananas are something you really can't compromise on. At our other stores, they're a top seller, but here, they're just sitting on the shelves. Maybe that's just a bridge too far for some people."

Given the Ambler Weavers Way (joining the original Mt. Airy location, located inside two combined rowhomes, and the Chestnut Hill location on Germantown Avenue) has only been open a few days, it may be too early to tell.

Finding a balance between food quality and supporting fair business practices is often a central challenge for food co-ops, which hope members will pay prices often a little higher than other stores if they know the payment is going to a quality, local food producer.

"This to me is a microcosm of the store," Roesser said as he approached the store's fresh bread cabinet, before reading off the names of the local bakeries who supplied various rolls and loaves. "This alone is seven or eight awesome, local bakers that we're helping to employ, instead of people buying junk bread from God knows where."

Roesser said Weavers Way evaluates food supplies by looking first for a local grower or producer then checking off how they rate on aspects lke sustainability, price, labor practices, ingredients and quality.

Other features Weavers Way will offer for the first time in Ambler include a large cafe area, a fresh deli and a large meat counter. It's also right across the parking lot from the Ambler Beverage Company beer store. Owner Jim Carter said he was pleased to see Weavers Way move in: "Ambler needs a place to buy some lettuce," he said.

The new Weavers Way location was formerly occupied by a Bottom Dollar and Acme but was vacant for several years. Ambler residents started efforts to turn it into their own co-op in 2012 before joining forces with Weavers Way.

It has nearly 11,000 square feet, compared to about 4,000 each at the Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill locations, so it represents a sea change for the organic food-loving Philadelphians running the store.

"This really is not that big, but for us, its huge," said Mary Sweeten, a Weavers Way spokeswoman. "Once you're in here, you'll start to see there's more than food going on."

Weavers Way Ambler is located at 217 E. Butler Ave. in Ambler, Pennsylvania. Grand opening celebrations are scheduled for this weekend. For more information, visit weaversway.coop.