Eat Your Heart Out--Community Food Co-op

Outreach and Marketing Manager: Adrienne Renz

Why Bellingham? “Bellingham has a kind of funky side to it that I like. The Art Walk is awesome and there’s such a variety of creativity here. There is a lot of passion in the community. And of course, you can go skiing and to the beach - it’s amazing.”

Favorite shop downtown? Cosmos Bistro, Bayou on Bay, Brandywine Kitchen, Goat Mountain Pizza

At any time during the day, you’ll be sure to find a lot going on at the Community Food Co-op; Customers shopping for their favorite food products, hungry people enjoying house-made food from the hot bar, friends catching up in the upstairs seating, while eating a fresh salad from the salad bar, and the opportunity to watch bakers work their magic through the large windows in the bakery.

The Co-op, a community-owned cooperative grocery store, has been around for 45 years, and started out in a small shop in Fairhaven. Around that time, there was a large social movement to take control of economic choice. When Bellingham’s Co-op opened, it was composed of 40 volunteers, and the store had 8 basic items on the shelf. The volunteers realized they could save money by buying in bulk.

The grocery store moved to a location downtown, and then again in 1994 to its current location on North Forest Street. In 2009, a second store opened on the north side of town since the first store was so popular. The most recent expansion was the addition of the bakery building, which opened July 2015 and is across the street from the flagship location. There are now 20,000 member owners, and the Co-op has become a community gathering space.

Opening the second building downtown allowed more room for the bakery, and made it possible to move the administration offices out of the mezzanine area in the main store. The new bakery also highlights the custom baking talents of the skilled bakers. Since the bakery’s opening, the main Co-op store has been able to offer seating in the mezzanine area upstairs, as well as participate in the Downtown Bellingham Partnership’s Art Walk and host a variety of other events. The Co-op has an event every month, whether it is small or large - the Art Walk, sharing samples, hosting music, or summer and annual parties.

Over the decades, the Co-op has formed long-standing relationships with local vendors. Each item offered at the grocery store is high quality and was carefully selected to be on the shelf. The Co-op is currently working towards clarifying its guarantees to make it easy to shop based on a customer’s values. This includes clearly labeling the bottom line guarantees in the meat department and listing what pasture-raised, organic, non-GMO and other terms mean.

“Bellingham has a local fervor,” Outreach and Marketing Manager Adrienne Renz said. “The Co-op helped create that identity.” The Co-op represents a community owned, local business that is devoted to the surrounding community. One way the Co-op supports the community is by providing a place for people to connect, whether it is a quick exchange in the store, or spending a couple hours in the mezzanine area.

Adrienne, a member owner since 1998, appreciates that she can have a hand in how the business structure of the Co-op is shaped. With 20,000 people as member owners though, there is a huge spectrum of opinions when the store is making decisions. Adrienne is also proud to say they are very willing to hear feedback and try to build consensus between everyone. The Co-op also hosts information sessions about co-ops as business models, which have been standing room only.

The foundation of the Co-op’s business structure is formed by care for, concern and involvement in the community. Besides every team member being passionate about what they do at the Co-op, they are also committed to giving back to and supporting the community. As part of this, the Co-op is the title sponsor for the Downtown Bellingham Partnership’s Wine Walk. “I love what the DBP has been doing,” Adrienne said. “Any time we can fill the streets with fun activities and get people to experience downtown, I’m all for it.” Tickets are still available for this huge event, happening this Friday!

Grab a delicious bite to eat at 1220 N Forest St. and visit the bakery at 405 E Holly St.

Today's post was written by Kristin Foster, Media Intern.