Eastside Food Co-op
Member investment: $100
Number of members: 4,300
Retail square footage: 4,150
Number of employees: 68
Eastside Food Co-op is comfortable with its role as front-runner in the Third Wave of new food co-op development. It has told its story countless times to individuals and groups seeking help and inspiration for starting their own co-ops. The co-op has also been a vocal advocate for greater startup support sector-wide. Although there were a number of food co-ops in the Twin Cities (and they provided help to Eastside during the startup phase and afterward), the people in the Northeast neighborhood of Minneapolis felt acutely the need for a grocery store. They worked in fits and starts over eight years to open their doors in 2003. The first few years of opening were touch-and-go financially, but the pluck of its manager Amy Fields, the vision of the founding team, and the commitment of the co-op’s owners pulled it together.
Ten years later Eastside Food Co-op is a hub of the Northeast neighborhood’s economic development, and a prime example of what can happen when neighbors come together to meet their common needs. As Eastside Food Co-op celebrates its ten-year anniversary and transitions to being an established food co-op with expansion plans, we can see the story has a happy ending.
But the truly remarkable story is the ripple effect one food co-op can have on the big picture. “I’ve got the luxury after 10 years to view Eastside Food Co-op through the lens of co-op and community development,” Fields said.
Northeast Minneapolis’ experience with Eastside helped lead to the creation of the NorthEast Investment Co-op (not connected to the food co-op, but Fields is on the board). The investment co-op was created to address the need for development on the neighborhood’s main business corridor, Central Avenue. Because the Northeast neighborhood is lower income, north of downtown, and without commercial concentration, it has not been attractive to traditional investors. People in the neighborhood believe that by investing together, they can transform Central Avenue one building at a time. The NorthEast Investment Co-op is buying derelict and neglected properties and fixing them up to rent to small business owners who want to open storefronts and restaurants. It is an excellent example of the cooperative value of self-help and a prime illustration of the principle Concern for Community.
People from the Northeast Minneapolis co-ops have also been involved in supporting the development of CoMinnesota, a group dedicated to bringing people together “for co-mingling for fun and collaboration” from a wide range of co-ops in Minnesota in order to foster development, education and awareness of the cooperative model in the state. Their first conference was held in early November, and brought together developers, community advocates and cooperative representatives to showcase the benefits of cooperation in Minnesota.
Fields said that she’s been inspired by The Cooperative Group in England (a cross-sector cooperative association with retails, travel agencies, financial and legal services, and more) and sees the benefit of connecting the efforts of the Eastside Food Co-op in conjunction with other co-op organizations toward a more integrated cooperative economy. “Anything we can do to make people feel more empowered in their communities, I say hallelujah. And that’s what co-ops can do,” she said.