Dear Friends of General Sisters
You have built with us, you have brought care and good wishes when we were feeling most discouraged, you have stood with us and spoken in support of the need for a neighborhood grocery store. You have shared your resources, your knowledge, your participation and your belief in this dream with us. Thank you.
General Sisters began with an idea, a wide eyed, beating heart dream, to form a small, neighbor driven grocery store in North Braddock, PA. Over the past eight years General Sisters has transformed this idea to a question and a process of “how do we build a neighborhood grocery store, as neighbors?” When we develop an idea together as neighbors, the steps in building a neighborhood grocery store reflect the realities of our neighborhood as well as the culture of each of us within our neighborhood.
This letter is a sharing of the work that 2016 and 2017 have asked of us, to communicate that we see you building General Sisters with us, an assertion of our gratitude toward you and an opening and celebration of all of our commitment to living the question, “how do we build a neighborhood grocery store, as neighbors?
In 2014-15, many of us banded together to resist turning the Grandview Golf Course (directly uphill from General Sisters) into a site for horizontal gas drilling. This fight to ensure environmental justice in our neighborhood and confront the myths of industry bringing prosperity became a priority and clear working model. Unfortunately this fight continues with a new proposed drilling site at Edgar Thomson Works. Sometimes building a neighborhood grocery store as a neighborhood means to pause building the store, and focus on the long term wellbeing of our neighborhood.
This community driven effort resulted in passing a zoning ordinance for North Braddock, ensuring the golf course was not zoned for industrial use. It also meant that General Sisters became zoned residential. Lawyers advised us that if approved as ‘non-conforming use” our zoning would remain commercial because our plan was already underway. With resistance in one direction comes resistance in another. The representatives in the boro who were for the drilling pushed back and insisted we did not qualify for non-conforming use. This challenged us to consider our commitment to the manifestation of the neighborhood grocery store, the labor and resources our community had already shared with us, and how much more we could give.
With our commitment to answering the question “how do we build a neighborhood grocery store, as neighbors?” we chose to move forward. We recognized that if we invested the resources in the legal process we would then have the tools to share with our neighbors. We learned that the boro did not have a zoning variance process, so what is typically a standard process became a year-long test of will. We hired a like-minded legal team, Trellis Legal who works on a flat fee pay scale and is invested in working with small businesses toward food justice. We paid for the legal fees using the initial capital funds for construction that we raised from friends, family and catering work. Our doubt was transformed when over 150 neighbors signed a petition requesting the variance and over 75 people showed up for our hearing in support of General Sisters on June 2, 2016. With the tenacity of Trellis Legal we successfully won our zoning variance.
The next step was acquiring our work permit, which required new construction plans, graciously donated GBBN architects. In another year-long process of back and forth with the boro, on June 27, 2017 we received our work permit! The signed work permit was a green light. The system that had previously been used to slow us down was now working with us.
During this time we worked with Trellis Legal to create our membership model, operating agreement, and corporation documents, to ensure that our legal structure reflected our neighborhood built grocery store. After we received our work permit, we refocused on the next step of building the physical store – the plumbing! The plumbing required all new pipes and a house trap, which led to a new sewer system.
The next steps will be the electrical inspection and then insulation and closing up our wall, and doors to open, so that we can receive our occupancy permit. Once we have our occupancy we will begin weekend markets and workshops to introduce our inventory, suppliers and how we will do business with each other.
How do we build a neighborhood grocery store as neighbors? Where do you see yourself, in this process and in the store? We will open with you.
With immense gratitude and love,