Chrissy Cooley, one of the organizers of the Friends of the Co-op group, referred to it as a breakup letter of sorts.
Dated eight months after the surprise closure of the Central Co-op’s Sixth Avenue location, and addressed to the Central Co-op board of trustees, the letter puts into words a list of grievances before getting to the punch.
The co-op’s closure, it says, was “traumatic” for the Tacoma community that supported the store.
Members, it says, were “disrespected” by a process from which they felt excluded and, sometimes, worse.
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The co-op’s history, which included a yearslong quest by Tacomans to open a brick-and-mortar location before the Tacoma Food Co-op merged with Seattle-based Central in late 2015, was “discarded,” the letter states.
And, then, the kicker:
“Please do not pursue a location in Tacoma. We do not want you to reopen in our community,” the letter implores. “The community has risen to meet the needs that we identified in ourselves, and we want a presence that is dedicated to Tacoma through the thick and thin, not just when it is profitable. … You can trust that the Tacoma Community is resilient and ready to move forward, but it will not be in partnership with Central Co-Op.”
Please do not pursue a location in Tacoma. We do not want you to reopen in our community.
Letter addressed to Central Co-op’s board of trustees
Mic officially dropped.
I highlight this letter now because of the news my TNT colleague Craig Sailor reported earlier this week. After a lengthy search, Central Co-op says it is poised to make good on what it always vowed to do — open a new Tacoma location.
The development comes not long after Friends of the Co-op formed a leadership team in hopes of creating a new Tacoma Food Co-op in partnership with Yelm Food Cooperative.
Though a deal has yet to be finalized, and the precise location of the new Central Co-op location is not yet known — aside from a promise from acting CEO Garland McQueen that the new store will be within 3 miles of the old location at 3002 Sixth Avenue — the outlook is apparently rosy enough for Central Co-op to foresee an opening by the end of the year.
Disregarding the surrounding drama — just for a moment, I promise — the news is easy to get excited about.
The new store, Sailor reported, will be more than twice the size of the old one, and “will devote 30 percent of its space to food service: cafe, coffee shop, deli, salad bar, hot bar or some combination of those, and community meeting spaces.”
Before delving back into the drama, it’s important to understand the people to whom this news actually matters. They are those who care about Tacoma having a co-op, and especially those who worked so hard to create one here in the first place.
To people like Cooley, to the 2,300 members of the Tacoma Food Co-op who voted to merge with Central Co-op in 2015, and to the roughly 1,300 folks on the Friends of the Co-op email list, a co-op is more than just a store. It’s a place for community, a concrete way to support local farmers and sustainable farming practices, and an alternative to chain grocery stores, even those focused on organic produce and other natural foods.
Christine Gregorich, of Fircrest, was an initial investor in the Tacoma Food Co-op, along with her husband. Describing herself as a “Tacoma girl,” she told me supporting the original Tacoma co-op was about the business model’s values.
“It was not just a place to grocery shop. … This is about much more than that,” she said. “To me, this is really about local food, understanding your local food economy, and sustainability.”
It was motivations like these that led people in Tacoma to struggle for years to make the original Tacoma Food Co-op a reality and the reason Central Co-op’s sudden and unexpected decision to close the Tacoma location was a gut punch for so many.
So, now, Central Co-op makes its promised return.
The question: How will it be received?
I wouldn’t shop there. ... I wouldn’t dissuade people from shopping there, but I do think people should be aware of what values you are trying to support.
Chrissy Cooley, Friends of the Co-op co-creator
“I wouldn’t shop there,” Cooley told me. She said she has spoken with people in the months since Central closed its Sixth Avenue location who wanted to sue or “drive them out of town.”
“I wouldn’t dissuade people from shopping there,” she said, “but I do think people should be aware of what values you are trying to support.”
Gregorich, meanwhile, is probably best described as skeptical. While she remains a member, she said Central will have to earn her trust.
“Boy, that’s a tough one,” she said when asked whether she’ll shop at Central Co-op’s new Tacoma location. “I guess it depends on whether they come with what I call true co-op values. ... My jury would be out, but they would have to prove themselves.”
And that’s the significant challenge ahead for Central as it attempts to re-enter Tacoma. It isn’t just tasked with opening a new location, it’s tasked with mending fences.
The truth is, if this were just a store, feelings would not be this raw. If this was just a store, I probably wouldn’t be writing about it.
Yes, if this was just a store, all of this would all be very simple.
But Central Co-op’s return to T-Town promises to be anything but.
And if this breakup eventually ends with harmonious reconciliation, it’s going to take an awful lot of effort.