Community Harvest Cooperative Grocery launched The Co-op at Kaino’s Saturday shopping events, starting June 2 at Kaino’s Coffee & Pizza, 418 E. 2nd St. in The Dalles, drawing a lot of members and nonmembers to shop and visit and revive the co-op dream. And it all started at the Port of The Dalles…
If the Port wants to recruit new industrial businesses, it has a vested interest in the health and wellbeing of the community’s downtown.
“A healthy downtown is reflective of a town’s overall wellbeing,” says Andrea Klaas, executive director of the Port of TheDalles.
Three years ago, downtown The Dalles was struggling with a high vacancy rate and looking for solutions to bring more businesses into the downtown area. The Port was involved in those discussions and, along with The Dalles Main Street, recognized the need for a grocery store downtown.
The Dalles once had several, but when Safeway relocated farther west, that meant downtown didn’t have a regular grocery store with healthy lunch and snack options, or ingredients for tonight’s dinner. Likewise, The Dalles once had a couple of health food options downtown, but those, too, drifted away.
Recruiting a new grocery store was a tough proposition. Several chain stores were approached without success. So the Port started thinking about other models and posed the question, “Does The Dalles need a Food Co-op?”
That question, posted on social and mainstream media, drew about 60 people to a meeting at Wahtonka Community School, and an additional 20 to a second meeting, who said “Yes,” we want to see a co-op in The Dalles.
From that starting point, a community effort was born. A cooperative corporation was established and membership recruitment began. Thus began three years of meetings, discussions, fundraisers, bazaars and cooperative dinners, as the co-op worked to build its membership and grow its reserves with the goal of one day having a bricks-and-mortar co-op store downtown.
“The Co-op at Kaino’s Saturday shopping events are a step in that direction,” says Kathy Ursprung, co-op board president. “First and foremost, they give our members the chance to shop and socialize, something they’ve been asking for. Second, they help us build relationships with suppliers, locally, regionally and beyond. Third, they will help us build up our membership and treasury until the day that our own store becomes a reality.”
Consumer co-ops are probably the slowest businesses to build because they happen one member at a time. But they have advantages that other business types don’t have. They have a set of Cooperative Principles to guide them that include:
- voluntary and open membership
- democratic member control
- member economic participation
- autonomy and independence
- education, training and information
- cooperation among cooperatives
- concern for the community
One thing local co-ops don’t have is a distant corporate office making their decisions for them. They are able to make their decisions based on local interests and priorities.
“Community Harvest, for example, has decided to prioritize local food as much as possible,” Kathy says.
Local suppliers at the first sale included: Star 9 Divine Beauty & Bath, NuCulture Foods, Columbia Gorge Honey, Sandoz Farms and Azure Farms Organics. We also drew from regional organic suppliers including Bob’s Red Mill and Nancy’s Organic Dairy. We also brought in fair trade products from around the world through the Equal Exchange Cooperative.
“We’re excited to be able to bring these products together for our community and hope more people will seek us out at Kaino’s Coffee & Pizza, 418 E. 2nd St.,” Kathy says. “We also offer online shopping at communityharvestcoop.org/Shop that we hope will serve as a added convenience to our customers.”