Minneapolis Co-op Contrast: Groundbreaking and Closing

In Minneapolis, within a period of a few weeks, North Country Co-op announced that it would be closing up shop after 37 years, while Seward Co-op-born in the same early 1970s era-held a groundbreaking for an expanded facility.

North Country, the city’s first in the “new wave” of co-ops, had been declining for years, despite being located on a busy street in a neighborhood with high population density and little retail competition. Formed when a “nonprofit” structure seemed to fit the ideals of an anti-capitalist grassroots movement, North Country retained a $5 lifetime membership and a strong commitment to member work in the store, while maintaining a collective operation without a manager until its final period. While most other food co-ops embraced a consumer-owner structure and professional management, North Country kept to its origins and maintained an aura of righteousness. But when it wished to aquire a building two blocks from its original site, North Country had zero equity from over 30 years of retailing and resorted to soliciting donations. In November 2007, North Country shut down.

Nearby, Seward Co-op had long ago converted to a consumer cooperative structure that invited community residents to join by investing $90. It also was among the first area food co-ops to offer and support a general manager position overseeing store operations. Seward Co-op gradually thrived and grew, relocating one block down in 1999 to a 9,500 sq. ft. facility.

Presently, Seward has nearly 4,000 owners, and they have contributed remarkably to capitalizing the new cooperative project. For its new site, Seward members made $1.2 million in loans to help complete the total financing package, leveraging strong additional support from the city of Minneapolis. On December 4, 2007 a groundbreaking ceremony was held with city and neighborhood officials, general manager Sean Doyle, co-op staff and board members, and other friends of the co-op.

As Seward Co-op director Dan Nordley (CG’s publisher) said in a column to co-op members, “The confidence that the neighborhood, city, and lenders have shown this project underscores how valuable and trusted our cooperative enterprise has become.”

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Dave Gutknecht is editor of Cooperative Grocer ([email protected]).

See other articles from this issue: #134 Jan - Feb - 2008