It’s been nearly six months — and counting — since Tacoma had a food co-op.
“It feels like even longer,” says Chrissy Cooley, one of the organizers of Friends of the Co-op.
Almost immediately after that fateful day back in July, when Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue Central Co-op unexpectedly closed, Friends of the Co-op started working to rally community support and identify a path forward. The surprise demise of Tacoma’s food co-op came just a half year after it merged with the Seattle-based Central Co-op and after lease negotiations to stay at the store’s Sixth Avenue location went south.
It caught many co-op members, including this columnist, by surprise.
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But what has transpired in the interim has been even more bewildering. While leadership from Central Co-op has always maintained an intention to open a new Tacoma location — with Central Co-op spokeswoman Susanna Schultz telling me this week, “It’s absolutely a top priority for us to open a new location in Tacoma as quickly as is reasonable” — some local co-op supporters have felt slighted or left in the dark. Meetings the Central Co-op has organized in the area have, at times, been strangely tense.
There’s been drama. There’s been intrigue. There’s been blacked out windows, security guards and reporters asked to leave.
And, in true Tacoma fashion, there’s been an underlying suspicion that, in all of this, T-Town is somehow getting hosed.
Still, so many months later, the main question remains: Where does Tacoma’s quest for a new food co-op go from here?
That’s precisely the direction Cooley and the Friends of the Co-op group hope to start providing this week when, on Wednesday, a 7 p.m. meeting is planned at Centro Latino.
According to Cooley, the meeting — which the Central Co-op has been invited to, but was not part of organizing — will be all about finding a focus. She says the meeting will provide attendees with an assessment of where things stand and what is known. Fears – including a rumor that Central Co-op is focusing on finding a location in Tacoma’s Proctor District — also will be addressed.
Cooley says those involved with Friends of the Co-op want to see a new location in Central Tacoma, Hilltop or another underserved area of the city, and that a Proctor location — where there are already several grocery stores and a thriving farmers market — wouldn’t fill the same void.
Of rumors that Central prefers a Proctor location, Schultz said, “While we are open to various opportunities throughout Tacoma, I can confirm that we are not focusing our search on the Proctor area.”
Cooley says several possibilities will be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting, and by the end of the night she hopes members of the community who feel passionately about a co-op in Tacoma will agree on a direction to take.
One option is obvious: standing with Central Co-op as it continues its search for a new location.
Another is to relent and, as Cooley put it, “do nothing.”
Or advocates could begin the process of opening a new Tacoma food co-op, though it’s an admittedly daunting task.
Cooley says the Yelm Food Co-op has expressed at least a preliminary openness to expanding to Tacoma, and general manager Barnaby Urich Rintz will be on hand to present a plan on how that might look.
Rintz confirmed the interest late last week. He said the Yelm Food Co-op is in its 10th year of operation and has roughly 800 members. The store operates out of a location with about 2,000 square feet in floor space — or about half the size of Tacoma food co-op’s Sixth Avenue location — and Rintz indicated that a Tacoma location, if one materializes, would likely “be … similar to our store here in Yelm.”
“Yelm Food Cooperative is interested in reviewing the prospect,” Rintz told me. “This is a very open process, since we are a cooperative and like to follow cooperative principles. That includes the concerns of the community.
“We’re still the process of learning if the community is interested” in having the Yelm Food Co-op expand to Tacoma, Rintz continued. “I wouldn’t say anything’s a done deal.”
That said, Rintz’s excitement about the idea was apparent.
“The way it’s working out with Tacoma, from my impression, is that there’s a high level of interest in having a cooperative that really represents the community and that there’s still a large amount of interest in having a very engaged community in the cooperative,” he said.
When it comes to the support he sees in Tacoma for a food co-op, including the more than 2,000 members the co-op had here before it was shuttered, Rintz put things simply: “We could definitely work with that.”