Neighbors for Neighbors

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An inside and transparent look into the economics and values of City Feed and Supply

This evening I invited David Warner from City Feed and Supply to join me for a coversation about the economics their business. I was inspired to do so after seeing many statements by members about "how pricey" City Feed is in the dialogue concurrently happening about Whole Foods coming to Jamaica Plain.

My intentions, having had many conversations with David about this in the past, is to share what I've learned about what it takes to operate their business, and secondly, propose that we take into account the community benefits when considering individual costs of the purchase we make at local business like City Feed. For highlights see below the video.



  • City Feed aims to operate at a 33% margin (the national average). If they buy something for $1 they sell it at $1.50
  • Out of the 33% margin, 20% goes to labor, and the rest goes to operating costs
  • When they have made a profit, and there have only been profitable 2 out of 10 years, it's only about 2 to 3 pennies on every dollar
  • As the owner, David's salary on average has been less than 50K per year with no bonuses - and working about 7 days a week
  • When money is spent at a local business, it is more likely to stay local - end up back in our pockets. 
  • City Feed contributes over 1 million dollars to the local and regional economy a year 


  • City Feed employees 43 people
  • They purchase from about 120 local/regional suppliers
  • Last year they donated about 10k in cash and 20k in goods and services


  • How does the money we spend create the community we live in?
  • How are we as a community expressing our values through our purchases?


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Comment by David W. on February 12, 2011 at 9:07am
Great points Dave.  I appreciate your attitude and perspective on the whole thing.  HiLo closing has sure kicked up a lot of discussion about the issues it raises and that is one of the many things I love about JP.  I never turn away from a good argument, but it is important to keep it as civil as possible.  I just want to be clear that my personal feelings about HiLo closing are not directed at the folks who shop at Whole Foods.  I am more seeing this as an opportunity to re-invigorate the discussions we always want to have about what makes this a unique neighborhood to live in and what we can do to keep it unique.  Maybe your point of action and leverage is making the neighborhood safer, or cleaner or more friendly or more diverse or more fun or more affordable.  All worthy causes with great and talented folks working on them.  My personal point of action and leverage is the importance of sustaining local, independent businesses in our neighborhood.  Some folks have asked me what is the point of the John Mackey "wanted" posters we have posted in the stores and my #whereisjohnmackey hashtag on twitter (@cityfeed).  To me it is a humorous way to illustrate one of the important differences between locally owned businesses and Big Business.  I don't see this as an us vs. them scenario so much as an opportunity for us all to sound out about our joys and fears. As long as we stay open and empathetic to opinions which differ from our own, then we are more likely to come to a friendly meeting place in our hearts and minds.  Thanks for reading this.  I look forward to hearing from all of you.  Your Nieghbor, David Warner
Comment by David Yamada on February 10, 2011 at 10:22am

I hope it's not too late to jump in on this thread, because I've been thinking a lot about role of City Feed in the JP community since the Whole Foods news broke.


Let me acknowledge up front that I'm a big fan of City Feed. But I'm also not inextricably wedded to the mantras of buy local, buy indie, etc. For example, I'm an avid reader and buy tons of books. I'm happy to shop at Amazon or Borders if they have what I'm interested in.


Indeed, I'm sure I'll do some shopping at Whole Foods when it opens. But City Feed will continue to get a ton of my business, and here's why:


1. Maybe it's just me, but I associate supermarket shopping with stress, aggravation, and hassle, with endless rows of products, impatient customers, and long lines at the register.  So when we talk about value, to me it includes being able to go to a neighborhood store -- for me, usually the CF on Boylston -- and buy food and goods at a friendly place that reminds me why I moved to JP. When I go to the Centre St store, I try to time it for quick lunch, which is always delicious and a relaxing break in the day. Even if Whole Foods has a cafe section, it won't be anywhere near the same experience.


2.  Have you ever heard of a book by Ray Oldenburg titled "The Great Good Place"? It's about places in the community -- like small stores -- that also serve as impromptu meeting and gathering places. That's one of the vital roles that City Feed plays in JP, and Whole Foods and other large entities simply cannot fill that service to the community.


3. It's nice to shop at a food store where you can have faith that the items were chosen carefully and with an eye towards quality and community sustainability. I make no claim of gastronomic purity -- I can be found dining at the Golden Arches on occasion -- but when I buy at City Feed, I know it's good stuff.


Just my three cents.


Comment by Matt Lee on January 18, 2011 at 5:29pm seems to be better link for people on devices without Flash.
Comment by City Feed and Supply on January 18, 2011 at 1:53pm

Buying Local is not charity, it is supporting what you value!

City Feed and Supply is not a full service market.

We view ourselves as supplemental shopping with specialty items and produce.  

But want folks to be able to come in and be able to buy items for a whole meal or two, not just condiments, etc.

We do have some amazing New England Farmstead cheeses, Local Grass Fed meats, and even some local caught frozen seafood.

We don’t expect people to do their full shop here.  Although, being a young “larger” market (first location was 1000 square feet – new location 3000 square feet just opened 2 years ago) we are hoping to build on our grocery sales, finessing our inventory, systems, and building that part of the business more.  Our goal is to be a showcase of New England grown and produced foods, and a point of pride for J.P. 

We never want people to feel like shopping at our store is charity.

We want people to see the value in shopping at our store: for the experience & ambiance, for the convenience, for connecting with neighbors, for the local and fair trade products we sell, the sustainable practices we keep and the local organizations we support. A store that contributes to everything that makes J.P. unique. 

If these are things you value, we need your support. Support can mean committing to shopping groceries every week, a sandwich twice a week (or more!) or just a cup of coffee. Any amount of support helps. If you are seeing something we should be doing or doing better us e-mail us!

We respond to every e-mail we get and actively try and improve and implement any feedback we receive:

Remember Kennedy Butter & Eggs? I used to always walk by and think how cool it was that we had that store in J.P., but I actually never went in... and then it was gone.... and I wished I would have put my money where my thoughts and values were. 

With a national large scale player coming to town, we need folks to think local first.

We are not asking for charity, we are asking for a shift in spending to local businesses whenever possible & while you may not be able to afford to do ALL your shopping at City Feed or other small local independants, a small conscious shift in your spending habit can help keep a local J.P. store you love alive and kick'n. 

We appreciate everyone’s support and do our best to be competitive and remain in the game. We want to keep being a part of the J.P. community, be one of the reason’s it is so unique and not just any where in America, but The Jamaica Plain, we all know and love. 

Make every dollar you spend a vote for the kind of place you want to live in!


If interested, The Sustainable Business Network of Boston has a BUY LOCAL campaign that shows you how to make a shift in your spending to local businesses. Visit 10% SHIFT to sign the pledge, find Shifters in JP, read reports & try the Local Calculator.


Thanks Joseph & all for this discussion and comments


Kristine @ City Feed


Comment by Leah Shapiro / on January 16, 2011 at 11:52pm

Thanks for doing this video Joseph....and thanks to David for being so transparent. I appreciate the openness and true desire to serve the community. I am grateful for you all at City Feed for walking-your-talk & holding true to your values.


Comment by Laura K on January 16, 2011 at 7:33pm

@ Eric ("I like this. Can you do another interview with the people who own Stony Brook Wine and Spirits? I want to know why their beer is so pricey.") - I don't want to go completely off topic, but in my opinion, the beer is expensive because the family that owns the liquor store doesn't give a rat's tail about JP. The family owns many other properties and businesses in JP, which I make a point not to patronize. Initially I got a weird vibe at them (not realizing they were all owned by the same family), but the day I was in one business and heard one of the owners say to another customer who was there, "If I want to open up a f-ing McDonald's in JP, no one's going to stop me" I decided never to come back.


I don't want to turn this into a bashing session, but I thought I'd pass that on. The owner's comment has been eating away at me for several years now.

Comment by Patty Neal on January 16, 2011 at 7:12pm
I agree with Anna 100%! And it has been sad to see so many businesses leaving Hyde Square (Bella Luna, June Bug, Zons, etc). I am very excited at the possibility of a Whole Foods in our neighborhood!
Comment by Diane Edgecomb on January 16, 2011 at 5:57pm
City Feed is an incredibly unique to JP store - though I am glad for this explanation on the prices on the items. And yes! I always know I am supporting a better lifestyle not just for myself but for others when I patronize them.
Comment by Anna on January 16, 2011 at 5:49pm
i was one of the people that made a comment about price (though it was about harvest, not city feed). i think it's great that you did this, though unfortunately i can't get the video to load! personally, i will shop at WF when it moves in, as i currently drive out of JP to purchase weekly groceries. that doesn't mean i will stop patronizing city feed, as i already do, for miscellaneous, last minute and specialty items. for me, that's the point of city feed. while i already understand the benefits of local businesses and what they do for the local economy, i can't be a martyr when it comes to feeding myself. i.e. yes, i want to buy local and organic as much as possible, i want to support small businesses as much as possible, but i can't over-extend my pocket book in order to do so simply because it's "the right thing to do." there's a reason why very low-income folks tend not to be able to afford shops like WFs (and City Feed, for that matter). I love city feed!!! i love what they do, i love what they stand for - but i cannot afford to shop there for my main grocery needs. I appreciate the concern for the latino community, and i hope their voices can make there way into this conversation, and moreover, that their needs will be met. i just also hope it's clear that when people comment on the [relative] high price of places like harvest and city feed, it has nothing to do with not wanting to support local - it just has to do with needing to support ourselves!
Comment by Kristi on January 16, 2011 at 5:48pm

Thank you for looking further into this Joe. Thank you David for the financial details of City Feed.

I have personally made a commitment to purchase more local goods. I have started buying all of my milk and eggs from City Feed, which are from NE farmers.  I spend roughly $5-10 extra per month to do that for a single person. I value the importance of local both in stores, farmers, and the reduction of carbon foot print that buying local allows.  I agree that $8 is a lot for a sandwich, but we all have to admit its a darn good sandwich and each time we purchase said sandwich we choose to do that for whatever reason.  I applaud City Feeds donations and commitment to the local economy.

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