In 2006, some Tacoma residents began bouncing around the idea of a cooperative food store. They formed a board of volunteers crafting the vision of what the store would be.
Last Aug. 26 Tacoma Food Co-op opened at 3002 6th Ave., after completing negotiations to purchase an already-existing small grocery store.
Tacoma Food Co-op is owned by member-owners that pay dues to ensure the market continues to promote good health through good food. This provides them and the rest of the community access to natural, healthy food.
General Manager Henri Parren discussed some of the goals for the first year and where the organization stands in achieving them. He said the co-op passed the $1 million mark in revenue last month and became profitable a few months ago.
“Tacoma is accepting us. We should be here to stay,” Parren said. “We have great support from the community.”
The co-op passed the 1,000-member mark some time back. Parren said this figure is now past 1,200. “Every week there is a solid growth of membership,” he observed. “Those are respectable numbers.”
He is proud of the relationship the store has cultivated with 6th Avenue Farmers Market, which takes place Tuesday afternoons in the late spring and summer right up the street from the co-op. He said that when the farmers market was struggling in 2012, a plan was made for the co-op and the market to help promote each other. Parren said Tacoma Food Co-op does not consider the farmers selling their products at booths as competition.
“Small farmers need to win,” he said. “The big stores are there to kill the competition. That is not the approach we take.”
He said the farmers market in now thriving. Many who attend it walk up the street to come inside Tacoma Food Co-op. “It is very rewarding to see that happening.”
About 33 percent of products sold at the co-op are locally produced. Parren said the store has formed great relationships with local farmers. This time of year some items may have been picked that same day. Local items are marked as such so customers are aware.
“We pay them a fair price and the quality is very nice.” He noted there will always be some products, such as bananas and citrus fruit, that must be brought in from far away.
Parren gives some credit for the store’s success to local media outlets for getting information out to the public. “The media has much impact.”
An example of the strong connection the members have to the store happened a few months ago. A woman driving on 6th Avenue suffered a medical emergency and crashed into the front of the store. No one was seriously injured, but the building suffered damage. A number of members came by and volunteered their time until 1 a.m. to install plywood over broken windows. At 8 a.m. the next day the store re-opened.
Tacoma Food Co-op will celebrate its one-year in business on Aug. 26. From 1-5 p.m. the public is invited to stop by. Vendors will be in the parking lot offering samples of products and wine and beer tastings. There will be children’s activities, self-guided tours and raffle prizes.
“It will be a big, fun celebration,” Parren said. “It will be a happy place to come and socialize with your neighbors.”