The 1970s saw thousands of food cooperatives open in cities across the nation, catering to a more food-conscious consumer with an emphasis on bulk foods, organic and fair-trade goods, and anti-corporate — at times even utopian — approaches to food distribution. Many of these member-owned and operated grocery providers have shuttered due to market pressure in the decades since, but some remain as strong as ever, filling a vital and often money-saving niche in their communities while standing in contrast to the profit incentives underlying most food stores and other business ventures.
Originally formed as a food-buying club in 1972 and opened as a retail storefront in 1978, the East End Food Store survives today as Pittsburgh’s only cooperative food store. East End supports sustainable practices by buying local. It includes specially produced items you won’t find at larger chain grocers and donates more than 8,00 pounds of excess food annually to eliminate food waste.
Brooklyn, New York
Founded in 1973, the Park Slope Food Coop is among the nation’s oldest and largest surviving consumer-owned co-ops, with some 17,000 active members contributing 75% of the shop’s workforce. In exchange for prices on organic and environmentally friendly groceries that are 20% to 40% below market price, its controversial business model entails that each member work at least one 165-minute shift every four weeks — not every month — under threat of revoked shopping privileges and double the required work-time next month.
Bloomingfoods has been providing fresh groceries from local producers to the artsy university town of Bloomington since 1976. Member-owners pay a one-time fee of $90 to get benefits such as 5% off one shopping trip each month, whereas nonmembers still have access to a beloved hot soup bar — not during the pandemic, unfortunately — and diverse range of sometimes rare vegetarian products.
15 locations in and around Seattle
Now more than 58,000 members strong, the nation’s largest consumer-owned food co-op was started in 1953 as a food-buying club of 15 Seattle families partnering with local Northwest farmers and ranchers. Today PCC operates stores in the city and surrounding suburbs, selling seasonal ingredients and original recipes made from scratch daily to members and nonmembers alike, with members getting special discounts that help to mitigate the stores’ middling to high price points.
The People’s Food Co-op is owned by more than 10,000 members and governed by a board of elected directors and 70 to 90 managers known as “Hands-On-Owners.” Since its founding in 1970, the co-op has expanded its retail space with geothermal heating and other eco-friendly features fitting its commitment to ethical consumerism, which includes banning of meat products (except in pet food) as well as foods containing artificial colors, flavorings, and preservatives.
The Rainbow got its start in the ’70s (officially 1975) as a bulk food-buying program for a Hindu ashram, or temple, but quickly became controlled by a secular political action group aimed at using food distribution for the purposes of political organization and education. It has survived the political group’s demise and several relocations to become one of the oldest surviving nonprofit groceries in increasingly Whole Foods-dominated San Francisco. It specializes in vegetarian products and goods from local farmers and dairies committed to minimizing ecological impact.
Lower Manhattan’s only food cooperative was founded in 1995, long after the initial 1970s boom of interest in consumer-owned food stores that created many others on this list. The wind-powered East Village store emphasizes local, organic, and fair-trade goods with particularly robust selections of seasonal produce and bulk dry goods. Annual membership dues range from $48 for a 20% discount and 2.25-hour per week work requirement to $60 for a one-person 8% discount with no work requirements.
Iowa City, Iowa
In addition to serving as headquarters for the National Cooperative Grocers Association, Iowa City is home to the New Pioneer Co-op, founded, like many other coops, in the early ’70s as a food-buying club. Now with two additional locations in Cedar Rapids and Coralville, New Pioneer’s stores feature premium to high-end prices but also boasts a fresh bakery and seafood products certified 100% sustainable.
Started as a small buying club in 1976, the Natural Harvest Co-op has been growing in sales and member-ownership ever since, opening in its original retail space in 1979 before expanding elsewhere in 1991 and again in 2017. In addition to regular discounts for owners as well as the general population, the co-op offers a selection of organic and health-nut-friendly products you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere in this remote northern region of Minnesota.
St. Paul, Minnesota
On a similar timeline to Natural Harvest, St. Paul’s Mississippi Market opened its doors in 1979 and expanded to more than double its size in 1991 before opening two additional locations in the 2000s, all thanks to the enduring patronage of its members and community. The co-op returns the favor with cooking classes and member appreciation events. Though quality standards can cause some products to be prohibitively priced, budget-minded shoppers can still find great deals by looking for the store’s Co+op Basics brand.
Among the few grocery options in its rural Wisconsin town is the Viroqua Food Co-op, which started as a natural-foods buying club before opening officially in 1995. It has great selections on bulk products, artisanal wines, and cheeses from trusted sources both local and international, as well as a produce section made up of more than 95% organic ingredients.
Founded in 1972, the Sacramento Food Co-op opened its own cooking school and community learning center in 2001. In addition to selling meat and seafood, beer and wine, and all-organic produce, the member-owned institution still offers helpful cooking courses and recipes for paying members and low-income families.
White River Junction, Vermont
Founded in 1976, the Upper Valley Food Co-op has more than 1,300 active members in an unincorporated town of some 2,200-plus residents. It has also served as one of the few common spaces in White River Junction, with an upstairs community center with a classroom and “Sew-op” studio for knitting and other educational courses.
The Frontier Co-op is a major supplier of natural products in Eastern Iowa. It was founded as a two-person operation in an old riverside cabin in 1976. In addition to packaging and distributing its Frontier brand throughout the United States and Canada, the store specializes in fair-trade teas and bulk foods such as spices and dried fruits sourced from sustainable organic growers locally and internationally.
New Brunswick, New Jersey
This co-op was started in a garage in 1973 by the Vegetarian Club of nearby Rutgers University. The nonprofit natural store now runs a retail space in downtown New Brunswick dedicated to selling vegetarian foods with the most nutritional value and fewest additives possible, with an adjoining café that hosts open mics, board-game nights, and other community events — or at least it does when its indoor space isn’t closed for coronavirus concerns.
The only not-for-profit food store in Ypsilanti is also one of the only solar-powered grocery stores in Michigan. It was opened in 1975 but fitted with solar panels in 2005 that now provide 100% renewable power for the in-store bakery. As well as offering a wide array of seasonal produce, bulk foods, and Michigan-made products, the co-op has functioned as a hub for events, film screenings, and community projects concerning sustainable living in Ypsilanti.
Now with three locations and 34,600 owners, the Willy Street Co-op has been serving Madison since 1974 with fresh, locally stocked selections of meats, seafoods, cheeses, vitamins, body-care products, and prepackaged foods. Anyone can shop at the stores, but owners get special discounts on seasonal products and attendance at a kid- and adult-friendly cooking series and other events.
Duluth’s nonprofit destination for organic produce and other groceries was formed by 20 original member/owners in 1970. It’s now more than 11,700 members strong and the town’s first LEED-certified retailer, with two locations offering weekly deals on local and largely organic products such as cheese curds and grass-fed beef.
The Wheatsville Co-op was formed in Central Austin in 1976 and today stands as Texas’ only cooperative food retailer, with more than 24,000 invested owners. Consistently voted one of the city’s favorite neighborhood markets, the co-op is beloved for everything from its vegan doughnuts and reasonable prices on organic produce to its fund drives for local nonprofits and “Co-op Explorers” program, providing children a free piece of organic fruit for every visit.
The Wedge started as a backyard operation in 1974 and has grown to encompass an organic distribution business, café, and community gathering space, as well as consolidating with the Linden Hills Co-op to form the Twin Cities Co-op Partnership. It costs $80 to become an owner and get bonuses such as discounts and coupon book, but its affordability program lets community members in financial need apply to join for an initial investment of just $10 and get 10% off every purchase.
Another homegrown buying club founded in 1974, the Merc has upgraded locations several times, recently adding a rooftop array as part of Lawrence’s largest solar energy project to date. The community-owned grocery establishes close relationships with local suppliers, so staff members are practically experts on the store’s inventory.
Mount Pleasant, Michigan
The GreenTree Cooperative Grocery (formerly Mount Pleasant Food Co-op) established its current retail space in 1977, which it has since expanded to include a greenhouse, walk-in refrigerator, and on-site deli kitchen. All of GreenTree’s produce is certified USDA organic or sourced from responsible local (within 100 miles) farms, or both, and the store also boasts large selections of wellness products and bulk foods, for which you can bring your own containers to refill.
Ithaca, New York
Founded in an old grain store in 1974, GreenStar, like many co-ops, serves as a destination for community education and assistance on sustainable foods, offering cooking classes, discounts on membership and purchases for customers on food stamps or WIC, and numerous other ongoing programs promoting greater access to equitable local products.
Hanover, New Hampshire
This collective of food co-ops in New Hampshire and Vermont began in 1936 with 17 members as the area’s first self-service grocery store. The original community-owned Hanover store yielded a few more locations throughout the area, which collectively employ 400 people and serve more than 20,000 members. Some of the offerings include cooking classes, design-your-own gift baskets, and rotating weekly growler pours of local craft beers.
Founded as a buying club in 1974 and incorporated as a co-op seven years later, the Common Market Co-op finally opened to the general public as well as investing members in 1990, growing gradually into Frederick’s full-service one-stop shop for natural foods. Expansions include a café with juice, smoothies, and coffee, a sustainable-seafood counter, and a community room for classes on cooking, environmental wellness, and backyard agriculture.
More than 8,000 families make up the ownership base of Sno Isle Food Co-op, a Seattle-area grocer founded in 1997 emphasizing organic and sustainable food cultures through strong ties to local suppliers. Though not known for budget-friendly prices, the co-op attracts members and non-investing customers instead with organic produce and daily fresh deli selections.
Now with two stores in Central Oregon, First Alternative was founded by a group of Oregon State University students and concerned citizens in 1970 to offer natural products as well as educational opportunities promoting healthier living. First Alternative’s eco-friendly business practices and outreach efforts still adhere to that original purpose, while its stores offer particularly robust selections on bulk foods plus locally produced wines, beers, and hard ciders.
Oceana was opened in 1977 as Newport’s first purveyor of organic and bulk foods, supporting naturally raised local products and eliminating excess packaging. Today Oceana also carries all-organic produce and biodegradable cleaning products and offers a sit-down eating area for customers to enjoy fresh prepared foods from salad and hot bars every weekday.
La Crosse, Wisconsin
Founded in 1973 and now with 10.500 member-owners, the People’s Food Co-op operates two stores in Minnesota and Wisconsin emphasizing local producers and goods from within the states Wisconsin, Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa, and Illinois. It has hot bars of food made from scratch, sandwiches, and baked treats.
The Moscow Food Co-op was established in 1973 by four local friends committed to providing better food to build a stronger, healthier community. Today more than 7,800 invested owners steward that original vision by sourcing organic, halal, and sustainable products from local producers within 250 miles, and offering helpful discounts for members or citizens in need.
Founded as a food-buying club in 1973, the 32,000-member Boise Co-op has expanded to two natural food stores with satellite locations that include a wine shop, wine bar, and pet shop, so customers’ furry friends can eat as healthy as they do. Thanks to high product standards, the markets support more local meat producers than any other in Idaho and often host sample stands run by the local farmers, cheese makers, and other producers.
Founded in 1979, Bozeman’s Community Food Co-op has grown such that it now has two retail outlets and the off-site Central Kitchen, supplying customers (including the 22,000 member-owners) at the stores with pastries, bread, and deli products. Offerings include local ranch eggs, healthy to-go food, a coffee bar, and a wide assortment of made-in-Montana spirits and supplies.
Sioux Falls, South Dakota
The Sioux Falls Co-op was founded in 1973 and now boasts about 3,000 active members. Customers can typically find good selections on vegan foods and unique meat products such as yak, as well as local products specially marked for convenience.
Hendersonville, North Carolina
This community-owned grocery store has unique offerings in all departments, from meat and seafood to produce and bulk foods, with its buying standards emphasizing a lack of antibiotics or preservatives and a focus on small local producers often outweighing the higher-end prices.
Known locally as just “the Co-op,” the Roanoke Natural Foods Co-op was incorporated in 1975 and today stands as Virginia’s largest cooperative natural grocer, now with two retail locations. In addition to standard co-op offerings on organic produce, eco-minded prepackaged groceries, bulk spices, and fair-trade teas, it has a deli setup featuring preservative-free soups, salads, and a low-priced hot bar.
Started as a neighborhood buying club in 1972, Good Foods has since grown to a full-service cooperative grocery store with its own deli and community room. Its highly curated inventory features products from more than 250 local vendors, meaning money spent at the store stays in and supports Central Kentucky’s economy.
Owned by more than 4,000 active community members, this cooperative grocery began in 1967 and incorporated in 1975 to offer locally sourced products that promote sustainable practices and accommodate any dietary restriction. Newark Natural Foods has an in-store café and in summers has hosted a Saturday farmers market right out front with special discounts to help SNAP/EBT recipients save more on healthy foods.
Morgantown, West Virginia
Since 1975, the Mountain People’s Co-op has provided locals with unparalleled access to sustainable foods and artisanal products from small local farms and other producers, many of which are mapped out on its site. The store also features a café, kombucha on tap, and the Venerable Bean Bakery, specializing in vegan updates on beloved classic treats.