A Peek Inside Providence’s Urban Greens Co-op Market

General manager Janiqua Jackson gives us a tour of the new space.

It has been a long time coming (since 2007, in fact), but this spring, the Urban Greens Co-Op Market opens its consumer-owned grocery store at 93 Cranston Street in Providence. The 7,000-square-foot market — which is focused on natural and local food — is located on the site of the former Louttit Laundry building that was abandoned in 1985 and demolished in 2008. The lot sat empty for nearly a decade. Now, the site hosts a mixed-use development, including the co-op and thirty-nine residential units. Members of Urban Greens Co-op become part-owners for $160 (a one-time membership fee), which grants access to member benefits and decision-making for how the business is run. We took an early tour with the store’s general manager, Janiqua Jackson.

Now that you are almost there, how are you feeling? You came on a couple of years ago as the manager, right?
I got here in August of 2017. I feel a bit of relief. It’s been a long road. But my anxiety is creeping back up because this is when the real work starts. The business will open and I have to sustain this.

Why is Urban Greens needed in a neighborhood like this?
We focus on local, natural and organic food, and providing access to healthy goods in a food desert. A food desert is an area within a two-mile radius where there is no access to local, natural or organic food and healthy food options.

What does it mean to be a co-op?
A whole bunch of people are working toward one mission and vision, and we are funded by the folks of Rhode Island. Our members are investors and part of why we’re special and different from a Whole Foods or any corporate grocery store is because we want to be socially responsible. We prioritize sourcing from local farmers and entrepreneurs. The developers, the owners of this building, these people who did the paintings, the people we buy products from: All of those folks are local people.

The interior of Urban Greens Food Co-op during a sneak peek tour.

Can you explain how the co-op model works for the average person?
Anyone can buy into it. You do not have to be a member to shop here. We encourage people to be a member-owner, which is only $160 for a lifetime membership. We take installments, so we make it easy for you. And for people who are on some type of subsidized income, we do a full-share but it’s $80 for a lifetime. We are going to try to do some special things for members, including possibly special pricing, and it also gets you a say in the business so you can vote on board members.

How many members do you have?
Right now, we’re more than 1,100, but we’re aiming for 1,250.

What makes this different from your average grocery store? The community we have here. We have a regular grocery store layout, but we’re socially and economically responsible and also responsible to the earth. We are going to try to do low-packaging. There’s a big bulk shopping area with bins holding ingredients. Buying in bulk eliminates waste and we’re also trying to help people eat healthier and save money. There’s also a community room and we invite people to come in and use our space. We are going to do educational classes on what a co-op is and cooking classes. The more you cook from scratch, the healthier it is for you.