Cuyler-Warren’s Consumer Buying Club Offers Co-op Prices

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Photo by Fotolia/Barbara Delgado
I didn't know how bad conditions were in our neighborhood until, 1968, when I found some mangy-looking fruit surrounded by green flies in a local store. Then a friend and I discovered the wholesale food markets and bought a basket of really good tomatoes.

Just like light shows and sideburns, the co-op idea is
spreading from the alternate culture into straight society.
Lynn Sherr reported on the trend in a recent Associated
Press story:

“There’s a grocery ‘store’ in a Brooklyn garage which
scrimps on brown bags, charges two cents each for egg
cartons and sells top quality sirloin for 98 cents a pound.”

“At the chain supermarket three blocks away, brown bags and
egg cartons are free, but sirloin costs $1.49 a pound.”

“The ‘store’ is the Cuyler-Warren Consumer Buying Club — a
food cooperative in a racially mixed area where shoppers
claim to save up to 30 per cent a week on meat, eggs, fruit
and vegetables.”

The syndicated article goes on to say that New York Mayor
John Lindsay’s Commission on Inflation and Economic Welfare
has praised the C-W co-op and recommended that the city
encourage and assist similar food buying clubs.

Five housewives, under the direction of Mrs. Kittie Brown,
organized the C-W co-op over a year ago in Gowanus, a
hardcore poverty section of Brooklyn.

Mrs. Brown says, “I didn’t know how bad conditions were in
our neighborhood until, 1968, when I found some
mangy-looking fruit surrounded by green flies in a local
store. Then a friend and I discovered the wholesale food
markets and bought a basket of really good tomatoes for a
fraction of the neighborhood grocery’s price. That did it!
Five of us put up $5.00 each and, with the original $25.00,
started buying and reselling peaches, string beans and
tomatoes.”

The co-op originally weighed all produce on a set of
bathroom scales and sold it at night in a church kitchen.
Now the garage store is open all day Friday and serves 67
members and a number of non-members who are permitted to
shop without paying the co-op fee.

The C-W operation is pretty typical for a food co-op.
Anyone who wants to purchase must fill out an order blank
and turn it in by 5:00 p.m. Wednesday. On Thursday, members of
the co-op staff tally up quantities and place bulk orders
for meat with a wholesale butcher for Friday delivery.

Mrs. Brown and a volunteer or two usually buy all fruits
and vegetables from one of New York’s wholesale produce
markets at 6:00 a.m. on Friday morning. The purchases are
hauled back to Brooklyn in a faded green station wagon.

By 9:30 a.m. all the food is neatly stacked along the walls
of the former garage. At 10:00 a.m., the doors are opened and
black, white and Puerto Rican housewives begin wandering in
to pick up their orders … and, maybe, something extra.
The co-op makes it a practice to purchase more than the
total of Wednesday’s orders: The dewy freshness and low
prices of CW’s produce almost always guarantee a sell-out.

A recent comparison of C-W and local supermarket prices is
quite interesting: At the co-op extra large eggs were 69
cents a dozen; lettuce, 25 cents a head; yams, 2 for 29
cents; tomatoes, 30 cents a pound. Three blocks away, the
chain store was charging 89 cents a dozen for jumbo eggs,
35 cents a head for lettuce, 19 cents each for yams and
tomatoes had a price of 49 cents a pound.

Price alone does not tell the whole story, however. Quality
is just as important. Mrs. Brown says, “What we really want
is good quality food at a price people can afford. And our
quality can’t be beat.”