BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — When Dylan Ricards and Sheila Akbar first opened Bed-Stuy Fresh and Local in 2014, they hoped to start a neighborhood co-op.
The couple wanted employees in their 210 Patchen Ave. grocery store to have a stake in each decision, make equal profit and share direct ownership of the business, but they didn't know how to make it happen.
“I’m a believer in communities and extended families, and it seemed like a more empowered model,” Ricards said.
Thanks to non-profits The Working World and Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development Corporation, a series of free courses are now available to teach local residents how to boost their neighborhood's economy by starting up their own worker-cooperative businesses.
The partnership's Bed-Stuy Cooperative Project offers a 10-week course that teaches participants about the basics of democratic decision-making and realistic financial models, said Bianca Bockman, the Community Health Food Advocate for Northeast Brooklyn Housing.
“Cooperative businesses have the unique ability to increase economic development because all workers make a profit, and that can really change this community,” Bockman said.
While the course focuses primarily on food businesses, all ideas are welcome, Bockman said. In addition to Bed-Stuy Fresh and Local, other participants include individuals looking to open a bakery or operate a house cleaning service.
As part of a worker co-op, all members share the labor, ownership shares and responsibilities.
“We already operate that way, but not officially, so it just makes sense,” Ricards said. “We rely on our staff a lot for their opinions and input, and we’re in a good position to move forward with that.”
The Bed-Stuy Cooperative Project is the second local incubation course The Working World has offered since opening a New York branch at 228 Park Ave. in 2011.
After a year and a half, the nonprofit helped launch two worker-owned cooperatives — La Mies bakery and Roca Mia construction.
In addition to the workshops, Northeast Brooklyn Housing Development and The Working World are in the process of assembling a cooperative council made of local residents who will help fundraise for the new businesses.
"With the engaged community and the neighborhood's economy and values, Bed-Stuy is just ripe for that kind of movement," Ricards said.
Both nonprofits will provide follow-up support for start-ups, according to organizers.
Spots are still available for the course, which meets every Monday at 376 Throop Ave. from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. The program ends May 18.
For more information or to register, contact Anise Hines at email@example.com or call 718-453-9490 ext. 230.