Members of the Bethlehem Food Co-Op host an information stand at the Hispanic Heritage Month celebration on Sept. 16, 2023, at Touchstone Theatre. Bethlehem Food Co-Op members encouraged residents to join the co-op and informed them about its mission. (Maeve Kelly/B&W Staff)

Bethlehem Food Co-Op set to open this summer


The corner of 250 E. Broad St. in North Bethlehem is located in an area defined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a “food desert,” a region stretching along the Lehigh Valley River to East North St. where there is limited access to supermarkets that provide high-quality, nutritional foods.

According to the 2019 Food Access Research Atlas, a “relatively high number of households” in this census tract who do not have access to a vehicle were more than half a mile from the nearest supermarket.

To combat persistent food insecurity, the Bethlehem Food Co-Op will occupy this corner by late summer 2024, a project that is 13 years in the making.

The Bethlehem Food Co-Op will be an “organization owned, operated, and financed by its members.” It will be a full-service grocery store featuring locally-sourced, quality items. The co-op partners with local businesses that support its work, whether it be organizing events or donating food.

The co-op will be “the only community-owned grocery food cooperative currently operating in the Lehigh Valley,” said general manager Eric Shamis. The co-op emphasizes bringing local, healthy and sustainable foods to Bethlehem.

The idea for the locally-owned grocery store was first conceived in 2011. Cora Savage, the marketing coordinator, said the Bethlehem Food Co-Op has been operating as an organization for the past 13 years.

While preparing for the market’s physical opening, the co-op has been reaching out to the community by hosting and tabling events and educating the public about sustainable food choices. Savage said the organization has raised money and collected goods for non-profits and partnered with local farmers to grow their sales.

She said the store’s opening has been a long time coming and is the embodiment of the organization’s ultimate goal of bringing fresh food to Bethlehem and strengthening the community.

Shamis said when the co-op opens it will be referred to as the “Bethlehem Co-op Market” to provide clarity to customers about the purpose of the space. The term co-op might not be familiar to the average resident.

He said referring to the grocery store as a market dictates it as a new institution within the Bethlehem Food Co-Op organization.

“We’re marrying our history and all of the work we’ve done with what we’ll be doing business as, which is the Bethlehem Co-Op Market,” Savage said. “We’re still the Bethlehem Food Co-Op, we’re just going to be operating on a different name to kind of bring clarity and align our organization with the new ways that we’re serving the community.”

Shamis said large food chains are uncommon in food deserts because they are a huge expense. He said the co-op market is not profit-driven — it’s community-driven.

The organization surveyed community members to determine what products the co-op will carry. Its recently published Product Purchasing Policy provides their guidelines, emphasizing the products will be locally sourced, affordable and high quality.

“It’s intentionally flexible because quality to you and quality to me may be different things,” Shamis said. “Part of the quality equation is diversity as well. It’s going to be important for us to have a diverse set of suppliers.”

While Shamis and Savage said it’s still too early to determine specific vendors, over 100 vendors have expressed interest in wholesaling with the co-op.

There are over 1,500 member-owners — individuals that pay $300 for an equity share in the organization .

Members have access to the Membership Benefits Program, which includes discounts for local businesses partnered with the co-op, as well as lowered prices on products and a percentage of the store profits. These local businesses are considered member benefits partners.

Derek Wallen is the co-owner of Roasted, a restaurant on West Fourth Street in Bethlehem dedicated to providing fresh, farm-to-table food. He also owns Country Club Brewing on Pierce Street and Lehigh Valley Printing Company.

Wallen has registered his three businesses as partners of the co-op and is currently working to make Roasted and Country Club Brewing a part of the Member Benefits Program so members can enjoy discounts at those Southside Restaurants.

“Having fresh food available to use is very near and dear to me and Roasted,” Wallen said. “So when I first heard of it, I joined almost immediately.”

Eric Ruth, co-founder and CEO of the Kellyn Foundation, said he was one of the earliest people to sign up as a member of the co-op. The Kellyn Foundation has worked to reduce food insecurity in the Lehigh Valley since 2007.

He said the work the co-op does beyond being a grocery store, which include classes and education, is important, and the Kellyn Foundation will partner with them in any way it can.

The Kellyn Foundation hosts a mobile market year-round at the Greenway and holds intensive lifestyle programs at Broughal Middle School.

Ruth said while the Southside has grocery stores like C-Town and Ideal Food Basket, it would be nice if it had something like a co-op that was more affordable.

“I’m happy the co-op landed in Bethlehem. Would it be cool to be in the Southside? Yes,” Ruth said. “But it’s not that far from the Southside either, so I’m happy and very excited for them.”

Wallen said the Southside’s two grocery stores can be expensive, so the co-op’s pricing will be worth the walk over to the Northside. He said their outreach is also present in many Southside community events, and he hopes they can participate more in the future to cement their connection with the Southside.

As they finalize preparations for opening, Savage said the market’s interior construction is set to begin in early April. She said there are many back-end operations happening, such as selecting vendors, and all hands are on deck as they prepare for opening.

“We’re also still super involved in the community, and we’re trying to continue to build excitement and momentum for the grocery store while still benefiting the community that we’ve been serving for the past 13 years,” Savage said.

She said no membership is required to shop in the grocery store, but she encourages anyone to participate if it’s an idea or organization they believe in.

“It takes a village, right? There are so many people who have worked on this project for so many years and put so much into it,” Shamis said. “It’s really incredible to see the community come together and build this.”

Comment policy

Comments posted to The Brown and White website are reviewed by a moderator before being approved. Incendiary speech or harassing language, including comments targeted at individuals, may be deemed unacceptable and not published. Spam and other soliciting will also be declined.

The Brown and White also reserves the right to not publish entirely anonymous comments.


  1. The food coop is not located in the midst of the low income neighborhoods that have no transportation. This location is directly adjacent to one of the highest income neighborhoods in all of Bethlehem. It was funded by city of Bethlehem tax grant paid by taxpayers & approved for funding by the Mayor & city Council members who just happen to be Food Coop partners. Sounds like conflict of interest at the highest level.

    A government funded Grocery store competing with a vibrant retail food industry is simply the wrong use of taxpayer money. How do you know the prices will be lower than private grocery stores throughout the Lehigh Valley? Some of these stores even deliver to your doorstep.

    This has been a boondoggle from the beginning & when they chose the location it only magnified the scam.

  2. Bruce Haines ‘67 on

    This is bad public policy for city Government to be funding a food market with taxpayer money.

    In addition, the Food Coop is not located in a low income neighborhood but rather abuts one of the highest income neighborhoods.

  3. Bruce Haines ‘67 on

    Location of the Food Coop is adjacent to one of Bethlehem’s highest income neighborhoods.

    It remains to be seen if pricing is in fact below that of the vibrant food retail stores in the region. These stores also deliver food to those without cars.

    Should the City of Bethlehem & Federal Government be directing our tax dollars to an organization that competes with a vibrant private industry? I don’t think this is good use of our tax dollars.

    This is a question that Universities like Lehigh should be debating vigorously given the broader needs of the community such as youth services & other needs not served by private investment.

  4. Joel Ressner (Lehigh BS '71, PhD '78) on

    This is not Bethlehem’s first food coop. For years, starting in the mid-1970’s, the Coop was housed on Fourth Street in South Bethlehem; it was run by undergraduate and graduate student volunteers as well as non-University affiliated residents of the Lehigh Valley. It later moved to a less accessible location and essentially disappeared. I agree with the correspondents who believe that locating the coop on the South Side would be of greater benefit to the people who need it the most. The decision to locate the coop on the North Side should be reconsidered.

Leave A Reply