A Community-Owned Market

This year, Co+opportunity celebrates its 43rd birthday. It's been quite a journey from our humble beginnings to the proud opening of a second store in Culver City!

 

The Original Store

It all began in 1974, in the garage of one of our four founders- where he also ran an herb business!
Soon after, they found a small vacant store on Santa Monica Blvd.  Co+opportunity opened its doors for business with $5,000 in capital and 20 paid up members.  Two months later they had 100 members. Store hours were 1:30pm to 6:30pm, Thursday through Saturday.  Initially, the members did all the work as volunteers. The store was member-only at the time, and wasn’t open to the public. With its health food focus, the buzz for Co+opportunity grew quickly. The original 20 members we began with in August 1974, grew to 400 members by September 1975.  Of course, that meant sales increased as well! As sales grew, the need for a bigger store became very necessary.

Finding a new store for Co+opportunity was a very large task. After much deliberation and discussing of where most of the membership lived, the Co+op decided that the first choice for a location was to be in Santa Monica. The members wanted Co+opportunity to be a part of a specified community and for the Co+op to have a local impact.  Santa Monica, with its defined city limits, its own City Council and smaller population (then 80,000 people), seemed a very livable city.  It felt conducive to one of the Co+op's main purposes at the time. This was to bring to life with the recently adopted Seventh Co+op Principal: Concern for Community.

The Co+op found a small place on 15th and Broadway, a quiet, commercial-industrial area in Santa Monica. It was on a lot packed with Hertz rental trucks and used cars. By December 1976, the member count had risen to 800, and was  averaging about $20,000 per week in sales.  In anticipation of this growth, the Co+op had changed its status to a cooperative corporation in July 1976, and elected its first board of directors in September 1976. 


The Origin of Our Name

One day, some of the Co+op’s members were having a group meeting at the store. The front door was open because of the intense summer heat.  At the point in the meeting when they were discussing the name, a young hippie came in and sat in the back of the room. He quietly listened to the discussion. After awhile, he finally said, “I’ve been listening to you all talk about this store as a great opportunity, and how it’s a Co+op - why not call it Co+opportunity?”
The vote was unanimous and Co+opportunity was born!

However, the Co-op did not successfully execute its plan for the new store addition.  The major organizational changes and the sudden jump in size from 1,000 square feet in July of 1976, to 3,700 square feet in March of 1977, went beyond the Co+op's capacity to maintain control over its operations.  Co+opportunity also added a produce wholesale to its operations in 1977, which created additional needs for capital and inventory.  An attempt to finance the fast growth through a bank loan, ended when the local bank refused to lend Co+opportunity money. In September of 1977, the board also agreed to a major increase in wages without specifying where the additional money was to come from.  Beginning in July 1977, the Co+op experienced a downturn in profits, which was clearly not just a summer slump.

This problem brought about a large drop in volume that further escalated losses. Unfortunately, the incredible expansion of the business and the Board’s growing role placed tremendous stress on the organization. Co+opportunity found itself with difficulty controlling its rapid growth, and its operating expenses were greater than its income. For quite a while, the Co+op ran without truly having a manager. They needed to change their ways quickly or face closure. 

Fortunately for everyone, Co+opportunity’s board took the brave step of hiring Will Simon and giving him real power as a General Manager.  Will had the enviable task of plugging a hundred holes in a sinking organization before it could move forward again.  Under a succession of active and constructive boards and with Will at the helm, Co+opportunity weathered a stormy period in the 1980’s to emerge as a healthy organization in the 1990’s, into the new millennium.

Will retired in 2005, and our current General Manager Bruce Palma is helping to lead us into the future.  Today, we’re a thriving Cooperative strong in community and support. We’ve survived the opening of other natural food stores closely around us like Whole Foods, Erewhon, Wild Oats and Trader Joes. We have over 10,000 active members and we’re open to the public. We do about a million dollars a year in business and have will have about 200 employees with the Culver City store!

 

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