Food co-op blossoms

Vancouver program opens storefront downtown, offers online ordering for members

By Erin Middlewood, Columbian special projects reporter

Published:

 

The Vancouver Food Cooperative, a dream that dates back to 2003, is starting to materialize.

It may only be open intermittently for pickup of online orders, but the co-op has an actual storefront in the Wallis Engineering building in downtown Vancouver.

“It’s step one. After all these years of talk, the food co-op is moving forward,” said Kendra Pearce, the store manager. The co-op had 242 members at the beginning of the year, with hopes of adding 10 members a month.

“I’m really pleased this is finally happening,” said David Page of Felida. He was the 35th member to join soon after the co-op was formally incorporated in 2006. On Tuesday, when members stopped by to pick up their orders, he was among them. He packed up broccoli, kale, chard, cabbage, apples and bread baked that morning.

“We buy as much local as we can, even at a premium price,” Page said.

If you go

• What: Vancouver Food Cooperative.

• When: 4 to 7 p.m. Mondays; 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays.

• Where: 215 W. Fourth St., Vancouver.

• Cost: $180 membership gives 10 percent off orders.

• Information: http://www.vancou... or 360-694-8094.

The same sentiment motivates Toni Buckley, who recently joined the co-op.

“I prefer to buy local, rather than go to the grocery store and buy something from Mexico,” Buckley said.

They are typical of the shoppers the co-op hopes to attract, said Kirk Wright, a co-op member.

“The core of shoppers are people who are little bit less price-sensitive. They will be the people interested in the product and where it comes from and how it’s produced,” he said. A loaf of artisan bread, for example, may cost almost $5, but it’s baked in Vancouver’s Lincoln neighborhood.

Wright, a Vancouver business consultant, served with Page on the co-op committee that worked to open the downtown storefront. Wright joined the co-op about three years ago and became much more intensely involved last year after some turnover in the board of directors. The emerging leaders within the group have taken a hard-headed business approach.

“There was a lot of enthusiasm that was not well-guided and the organization came close to collapsing on itself,” Wright said.

“We began talking about the co-ops we had been involved with 20 or 30 years ago, and thinking, ‘What would be an analogous startup for 2010 or 2011?’ We came up with something that’s not quite a buying club, with an online catalog,” he said. “What we’re doing is not ideal, but it’s the first step down the path to a much more traditional shopping experience.”

Anyone can place an order online at http://www.vancouverfood.coop for pickup at the storefront, but members, who pay $180 to join, get 10 percent off. Most items come from Azure Standard, a Dufur, Ore., company offering natural and organic products. Pearce is developing relationships with Clark County farms and companies, as well. Products from Compass Coffee, Russell’s Bread and Northwest Organic Farm now are in the lineup.

The storefront is open Mondays from 4 to 7 p.m. and Tuesdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and 4 to 7 p.m. Once the Vancouver Farmers Market opens this spring, the co-op will add Saturday hours to complement the market’s offerings.

“It seems like (the storefront) is getting the traction we hoped it would,” Wright said. “It’s showing the people in the community who were skeptical, wondering if it would ever happen, that it can.”