The Willamette food cooperative was created in an old store from the ground-up and already boasts 500 members in two months' time.
Republished with permission from the Eugene Register-Guard.
"Dan's wife" makes the bagels; Mrs. Neusihin makes the pickles. Granola — "a cereal that really stays crisp" — is 60 cents a pound packaged; if you bring your own container it's 55 cents and you can buy as much or as little as you need.
Willamette People's Cooperative, the corner grocery store which sells these items, is a booming business. Two months old, the grocery at 22nd and Emerald has over 500 members (at 5 dollars a share) and is grossing 700 to 800 dollars a day. Already there is talk about starting another food cooperative to handle a volume which surprises even the organizers.
The food cooperative was started by a group of University of Oregon students and their friends who wanted to sell groceries at lower prices and to sell an idea — that a sense of community can be created through common cause and need.
Transportation problems have blighted that community spirit somewhat but volunteer sales help (20 to 30 clerks who work without pay) continues strong behind the counter.
The co-op buys a lot of its stock in Portland and from farmers, slaughterhouses and wholesalers around the country. People have given cars (some of which won't run) to the store for pickup runs by volunteer drivers. But occasionally you won't find the Tillamook cheddar which sells at 81 cents a pound or fresh eggs for 66 cents a dozen.
You usually can find a good supply of fresh mushrooms at 62 cents a pound; olives at 75 cents a pint; brown rice, soy flour, wheat flour, and three varieties of beans — all sold at bulk prices. Whole milk is 88 cents a gallon (used to be 83 cents but inflation hits co-ops, too).
After two months of successful operation, the co-op membership has voted to shift the emphasis to more natural and health foods. At a meeting last week members decided to stop the sale of cigarettes because smoking is "a filthy, addicting habit;" to stop the sale of "garbage" sweets and stock healthful candies for the school kids; to limit stocks of certain packaged foods which aren't particularly healthful; and to emphasize the sale of fresh fruits and vegetables over canned goods.
Jack Corbett who works afternoons at the co-op says rumors that the store is being harassed by food licensing agencies are untrue. He said the clerks who cut the cheese and meats for customers have to have food handlers licenses and Corbett agrees they should. He said he's found the food inspectors helpful and it's simple to meet health requirements if you're willing to listen to inspectors.
Willamette People's Cooperative gets crowded most afternoons and insiders recommend you shop early or late. Hours are 9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. You can buy at the store even if you're not a member but it isn't encouraged.
Shoppers include everyone from youngsters who pay 7 cents to help themselves to one of Mrs. Neusihin's pickles to old timers who like the atmosphere. Browsers read signs explaining the benefits of natural grains and polyunsaturated oils, the average wage of Guatemalan farm workers and the number of war victims in Vietnam. Buyers help themselves to flour from wooden barrels and grind their own coffee. The adventurous can even take home a piece of horse meat to try out on the family.