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Dorchester Food Co-op opens its doors to bring fresh, affordable produce to the community

The store, finally open after more than a decade of work, celebrated Saturday with a grand opening

Shoppers checked out the produce at the grand opening of Dorchester Food Co-op, which was bustling with neighborhood residents on Saturday.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Customers strolled up and down the aisles of the new Dorchester Food Co-op during its grand opening Saturday eyeing bundles of fresh vegetables and locally baked bread and pastries.

After more than a decade of planning and organizing, the co-op at 195 Bowdoin St. was bustling with neighborhood residents, both working the registers and crossing items off their grocery lists.

The co-op plans to serve as a “community and worker-owned grocery store” that works with local farms and neighborhood businesses, so the whole community can benefit, John Santos, the co-op’s general manager, said in an interview with a Globe reporter near the checkout counter.

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“It’s a store owned by the community that serves the community, and it’s also staffed by the community,” Santos said, while keeping an eye on the long line of customers that backed up well into the aisle. “We speak a number of different languages. This is a friendly environment. We’ve tried to purchase goods from within Massachusetts so we can support both growers and also producers of goods.”

Mayor Michelle Wu, a member of the co-op, took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony to officially open the new storefront, which quickly filled up with eager customers making purchases including pumpkins for the Halloween season.

“I feel this personal sense of pride having filled out that little [membership] paper and feeling like this is part mine, part all of ours, and we’re going to sign up more and more community members,” Wu said to the gathered crowd. “Food is really the first, most basic way that we connect to each other across cultures and generations.”

Customers with baskets in hand peered at display stands holding avocados, bell peppers, cloves of garlic, and bundles of cilantro, while some looked for cuts of beef and pork in the freezers.

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Saturday’s opening felt like a relief after a series of supply-chain issues kept delaying the grand opening date, Santos said.

“It’s amazing to see people with shopping carts actually shopping in the store,” said Jenny Silverman, cofounder and board member of the co-op, just before Wu arrived. “There was a delay of a few months in terms of opening, but we’ve been working on this project for 12 years. A few months didn’t feel that long.”

Silverman said she and her cofounders worked on the project through the tenures of three mayors — Thomas M. Menino, Martin J. Walsh, and now Wu — to bring affordable produce to an area that’s considered a food desert. Multiple agencies, such as the Boston Public Health Commission, the Mayor’s Office of Housing, and the Office of Food Justice, contributed to the co-op’s planning and execution.

After many delays to the opening date, a crowd gathered Saturday as the co-op kicked off sales at its Bowdoin Street store. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The co-op hosted a groundbreaking in July of 2022, the year in which the building was finished, Silverman said.

Alphonse Knight, of Weymouth, who said he was the 68th co-op member out of about 1,700 so far, browsed the shelves in the bottled beverage section and picked up a bottle of ginger beer.

“I just looked at this. I’m originally from the Caribbean and we grew up with ginger beer,” he said, excitedly. “I’m going to grab this. I think they did their research and they got a lot of things according to the neighborhood. It’s a little bit for everybody. I got my ginger beer right here. Why go somewhere else?”

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Knight, who used to live in Dorchester, has attended co-op membership meetings and fund-raisers for almost 12 years, he said.

People over 18 can purchase a one-time $100 membership share, which includes two additional adults in their household, with options to pay in full, installment payments, or request the “Solidarity Fund” to cover a portion of the balance, according to the co-op’s website.

Once someone becomes a member, they become part owner and can help make decisions for the co-op, Knight said.

The co-op hires workers from the community, including a few people who live in the low-income housing units above the store, Santos said. Each of the workers is in the process of becoming a part owner, he said.

Mark Adams, with his shopping basket, was in the line of customers. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Mark Adams, also a co-op member, said he was thinking about becoming an employee as soon as the store “gets up and running,” but his main focus for now is to shop for nutritious food, and he encourages others to do so.

He used to monitor the co-op’s progress every time he passed the building, he said, noticing any new shelving or decorations placed inside.

“This is good, sustainable, healthy food,” Adams said, pointing to the co-op from the outside. “I’m coming to this [all the time]. They’re going to have to get rid of me.”


Bailey Allen can be reached at bailey.allen@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @baileyaallen.