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FOOD CO-OP

The FOOD CO-OP (Food Community Organization of People) is a grocery store which focuses on selling food at low prices, as well as offering quality natural foods. The organization began, however, as a traditional buying co-op in 1970 in the UNIV. CIRCLE area, operating without a permanent location. In 1974 the co-op opened a store at 12408 Euclid Ave. in EAST CLEVELAND, where bulk products were also offered. The store was open 3 days a week and was staffed by volunteers. Members, who were required to work a certain number of hours per month in the store as well as pay a membership fee, received substantial discounts on purchases. At this time no canned goods or meats were carried.

In 1978 the store moved to 11628 Euclid Ave., near CASE WESTERN RESERVE UNIV. Many of its new customers at this time were students of the school. It was the largest co-op in the Cleveland area at this time. In 1984 the store moved to a 4,000 sq. ft. space at 11792 Euclid Ave. The co-op was now the last of its kind in the Cleveland area and had 1,500 households as members. Paid employees were added to the staff. The donated work time requirement was dropped in 1985, and the range of products was expanded to include meats and non-food items. In 1989 prepared take-out fare was added to the co-op's product line. The early 1990s saw the expansion of the co-op, as the Co-op Cafe at CWRU's One-to-One Fitness Center opened in 1990, while the Euclid Ave. store erected a new kitchen and connecting walkway in 1993. In 1994 an affiliated Food Co-op store opened in the COVENTRY VILLAGE BUSINESS DISTRICT of CLEVELAND HTS. Sales that year for both stores exceeded $4 million. The co-op's focus had evolved from that of the traditional buying co-op to that of a store which also carries items for the health-conscious consumer.

In 1998, an attempt to unionize Co-op workers failed, leading to some disaffection among both members and staff, compounded by competition from three new health food stores that were to open in the area during the next two years, including the Mustard Seed Market store in SOLON in the fall of 1999 and Wild Oats stores at WOODMERE and SHAKER SQUARE in August and December 2000, respectively. The Co-op also faced competition from mainstream grocery stores which increasingly began adding natural selections to own their own shelves. In response to a growing financial crisis, the Co-op hired natural food cooperative turnaround consultant, John Newman, of Fayetteville, Ark., who began work on January 15, 2001. Newman solicited pledges of volunteer time and increased spending from Co-op members at an emergency meeting held at the CHURCH OF THE COVENANT on March 13. Also speaking at the meeting was U.S. Rep. DENNIS KUCINICH, a Co-op member. Newman implemented productivity incentives and improved inventory control and staff scheduling. His measures successfully slowed the rate of financial losses but were unable to avert a decision to close the Coventry store effective January 26, 2002, in the face of a debt of approximately $40,000. Co-op managers hoped that the closing would help reinforce the viability of the remaining Euclid Avenue store.

From a paid membership of 15,000 in 1995, the co-op had decreased to approximately 10,000 members in 2002. The members annually elect a 9-member Board of Trustees for staggered 3-year terms. Matt Mesok served as general manager since the middle of 2001.