Vegetables at Tel Aviv shuk
Vegetables at Tel Aviv shukMoshe Shai/Flash 90

Israel’s first-ever discount supermarket co-op chain,“Tzarchaniyat Ha’Ir (“CityMart”), will open its doors at 15 Brit Am Street in Sderot. The city mart project, which will see 41 supermarket stores opened in cities that are considered "the periphery" in Israel, was originally inspired by the ‘cottage cheese’ social protests  of 2011.

CityMart is a multi-million-dollar initiative of The Jewish Agency, UJA-Federation of New York, The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington,the Israel Venture Network (IVN), and private donors. The store in Sderot will be approximately 2,100-square-feet large, and like all of the other CityMart stores, it will include a community space that will be earmarked for community events, in addition to the store. A second branch is planned to open in the northern Negev desert city of Arad later this month.The goal is to open all 40 stores within a few years.

Uri Leventer-Roberts, the Executive Director of the Israel office for the UJA Federation of  New York, spoke to Arutz Sheva about the plans for the project.

“I think that ever since the social protests of 2011, everyone in the social sector of Israel has been trying to come up with responses to the challenges that were presented during those protests. The main issues that we are addressing are the gaps between the center and the periphery, food security, and the high cost of living. “

The CityMart chain hopes to lower the costs of food, build sustainable stores that are run as a cooperative by the community members themselves, and utilize volunteers from the community to run the stores thereby keeping costs down. The project is currently relying heavily upon philanthropic funding to get it started, but aims to be self sustainable within just a few short years.

“The further you go from the economic center of the country,” said Leventer-Roberts, “the higher the food costs go, due to a lack of competition. We are aiming to increase competition and  bring prices down while building communities.”

The UJA of New York became very interested in the project once they found a way to make sure that the stores would be able to be self sustainable, this is primarily due to the volunteerism and community nature of the cooperative stores.  

“What we saw in 2011 was a lot of rise in civic duty,” explained Leventer-Roberts. “Israelis want to build their own community and take responsibility for their own city. They may come together over the issue of price of food, but then they will come together to renovate the neighborhood and get involved with the municipality.”

CityMart will offer everything from fresh produce to dairy products to packaged goods at deeply discounted prices. CityMart has committed to surveying local prices and ensuring that every item of theirs beats the competition. The chain will be able to discount goods because it will source its stock from small and medium-sized producers, supplied through area distribution centers, and rely on local goods as much as possible. CityMart will also offer a buyer’s club, with members receiving an additional 15% price break.

The supermarket chain will operate as a non-profit social venture, with all its earnings going toward opening additional branches, lowering prices even further, and fostering communal activities and social change. Young social entrepreneurs and change activists will be recruited to lead local activities.