By Alex Gladu, Writer
Do you know who owns your grocery store? Is it a wealthy family in a distant city, a powerful group of shareholders who prefer Wall Street to Main Street or a group of your neighbors who shop at the store week after week? October is National Co-op Month, which makes it the perfect time to meet the owners of your local grocery store.
Co-op businesses are owned by a group of members, usually customers, who pay into the business, patronize it and get a say in making decisions for it. In this way, co-ops are owned by people with an interest in the business that goes beyond profits. In turn, co-ops are invested in the community, supporting initiatives like sustainability, fair-trade and more. Today, there are nearly 30,000 co-ops across the country, ranging from grocery stores and dairy farms to credit unions and housing units.
The National Co+op Grocers (NCG) represents 148 retail food co-ops, which operate more than 200 stores in 38 states. For these members, NCG facilitates business services, like credit card processing and accounting, and leads individual co-ops in organized advocacy efforts. Like its member organizations, NCG itself follows a cooperative business model, meaning that the co-ops that pay into it for membership are also the owners. NCG provides a platform for individual grocery co-ops to connect with each other and get involved in the national co-op movement.
Together, NCG’s member co-ops represent annual sales of more than $1.8 billion. One such member is Weaver Street Market, which has three locations in central North Carolina. Weaver Street Market is cooperatively owned by approximately 18,000 consumer households and 200 employees. Anyone, member or not, can shop at Weaver Street Market, but members have a say in what products the stores sell, what causes they support and what career opportunities they offer.
Thanks to their community-oriented business model, co-ops are a natural fit for the buy local movement. They are owned by members of the community and operate for the benefit of the community. They also have a similar economic impact as other locally owned businesses. In a study of food retail co-ops, NCG found that for every $1,000 consumers spend at their local food co-op, $1,604 in economic activity is generated in their local economy—$239 more than if they had spent that same $1,000 at a conventional grocer.
Independent We Stand is dedicated to helping independent businesses across the country engage their communities and encouraging customers to buy local. If you’re a business owner, get buy local resources, tips and news by registering for a business membership. Your business will also be included in our ‘locals only’ search engine and mobile app. If you’re a consumer, take the pledge to buy local to join the movement.
Alex recently graduated the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill with B.A.s in Journalism and Spanish. Since becoming a writer for Independent We Stand, she has fully adopted the ‘buy local’ lifestyle. Her favorite indie business is Sugarland, a bakery in Chapel Hill, N.C, where she has been known to go a little cupcake crazy. She hopes to attend law school and pursue a career in nonprofit or political communication.