Business

Tacoma food co-op shutdown comes as surprise

Central Co-op CEO Dan Arnett watches employee Shelby Alexander move merchandise to a moving truck at the closed Central Co-op in Tacoma on Monday.
Central Co-op CEO Dan Arnett watches employee Shelby Alexander move merchandise to a moving truck at the closed Central Co-op in Tacoma on Monday. Staff photographer

The Central Co-op on Tacoma’s Sixth Avenue never opened its doors early Monday.

The co-op’s board unexpectedly shut the grocery without warning to members and customers. An email from Dean DeCrease, Central Co-op board chair, was sent to co-op patrons early Monday.

Workers were loading food onto wood pallets early Monday as bewildered customers wandered up to the front door.

Seattle-based Central Co-op merged with the Tacoma Food Co-op in December.

The Tacoma co-op had been negotiating with landlord Ewald “John” Loesch since January, shortly after the merger, Arnett said. Attempts to reach Loesch on Monday for comment were unsuccessful.

Dan Arnett, president and CEO of Central Co-op, said his company and the landlord could not agree on terms, rates and duration of a new building lease.

“None of them matched up with our needs,” Arnett said outside the building’s entrance Monday.

The current lease expires July 31.

“We gave it until the last minute,” Arnett said, explaining the sudden closure. The decision was made last week but not announced until early Monday.

Arnett explained that Monday’s closure was to ensure they were out by the end of their lease.

Arnett said the co-op will look for a new location in the South Sound.

“We have no intention in leaving the community,” Arnett said.

Arnett said 13 employees are being laid off. The co-op is working with the United Food and Commercial Workers union on the layoffs.

Before the merger, the Tacoma Food Co-op was in financial trouble, Arnett said.

“The truth is, this business would have closed in the first quarter (of 2016),” Arnett said, but added it had no bearing on Monday’s closure.

Tacoma Food Co-op’s 2,300 members voted in 2015 to merge with Central Co-op’s 13,000 members.

“The merger, I believe, saved the company,” Arnett said.

Following the merger, the co-op was able to pay back $200,000 in member investments used to start the co-op in 2011.

“They would have lost that,” if the business closed, Arnett said.

While losing the lease and sudden closure were painful, Arnett said, it will allow the co-op to grow.

Though a new location has yet to be found, it will have a larger footprint, allowing a larger inventory, he said.

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