Attention Tacoma shoppers: This week’s closing of The Central Co-op Sixth Avenue site is a perfect case of not knowing what we had until it’s gone.
It came like a jolt. Citing irreconcilable differences with the landlord, the store pulled the plug with no notice to either employees or shoppers. Both are feeling bereft, and rightly so.
The co-op called itself a “solidarity cooperative.” Its website states: “We are owned and democratically controlled by customers and workers.”
But ask any of the 13 employees who are suddenly out of work, or any of the co-op’s 2,300 “owners,” where all that democracy and solidarity were when the co-op decided to abandon ship, and they will all tell you it was MIA.
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Plenty of shopping choices still exist; Tacoma has everything from boutique grocery stores where individual peaches are wrapped and tied with a bow, to budget-friendly outlets where expiration dates are a mere suggestion.
So with all these grocery options, why all the fuss over the loss of this co-op?
Members will tell you the store wasn’t just about food; it was about philosophy. They paid the $100 for a consumer share so they didn’t have to leave their consciences at home when they went shopping for food.
The co-op called its philosophy the “good-food movement.” Its mission was expansive and downright noble. It included supporting small, local farms with an eye on better working conditions for workers.
The store’s aim was to pay close attention to the acquisition of produce and to monitor financial news from grocery conglomerates. The co-op strove to empower the community and help Tacoma neighbors make informed choices at a time when most Americans give little thought to food production.
Most grocery consumers prefer not to know that the heavy price for a cheap tomato is most likely being paid by people, many of them children, who spend 14 hours a day in the fields, exposed to pesticides. Most don’t like to think about the immigrants, many undocumented from Mexico and Central America, who are not in the position to demand better wages and working conditions.
The Tacoma Food Co-op gave shoppers an opportunity to vote against injustice with their wallets. Name-brand items still lined the co-op shelves, but the emphasis was on independent companies and local producers of organic foods and sustainable meats.
President and CEO Dan Arnett promises the store will return. He and the board, which merged with the Seattle Central Co-op last year, have some explaining to do when it comes to details on how, when and where this will occur.
In the meantime, supporters who call themselves “Friends of the Co-op” aren’t ready to let go of the co-op’s good food philosophy. They’ve scheduled a 7 p.m. rally for next Tuesday at 710 South Anderson Street in Tacoma.
Both Olympia and Seattle have vibrant food co-ops, and people in this community believe Tacoma can, too.
Let’s hope Tacoma gets another chance to step up to the plate and shop smart.