story & photo
by Anne Pappalardo
While many consumers are enjoying the increased popularity of farmers’ markets and a heightened appreciation for locally-grown or produced goods, the Willimantic Food Co-op in Willimantic is a mainstay for Eastern CT consumers for almost 30 years.
The Willimantic Food Co-op began as the Willimantic Buyers Club in the early 1970’s. Members met in the basement of a local church to order food in bulk and divide it amongst themselves at a significant savings. The Willimantic Buyers Club merged with the buying club from Storrs in 1980 and opened a retail store on Main Street in Willimantic. When the Co-op outgrew the Main Street location in 1991, members and friends formed a human chain, and transferred the store’s stock to yet another location. The store finally settled at their current location on Valley Street in 2005.
The store features fresh vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, and conventional foods. Popular products include fresh organic and local produce, free roaming, free range, and organic eggs, local honey and maple syrup, regional artisan cheeses, ethnic foods, and many other items.
The Co-op’s members are passionate about running a store that supports local farmers, producers, and craftspeople. Examples include baked goods from popular local bakeries, soda from local bottling favorite Hosmer Mountain Soda, milk and other dairy products from Mountain Dairy, Mansfield, and cheese from Beltane Farm, Lebanon. The store also sells fair trade products, spices and grains in bulk, environmentally-friendly cleaning supplies, and herbal supplements. The Co-op also features pottery, clothing, soaps, beeswax candles, cards, books, and much more.
Since its inception, the Co-op is guided by the Rochedale Principles, a set of eight standards that launched the modern cooperative movement. They include: dedication to honest business principles, open, voluntary membership, cooperation between cooperatives, education, and democratic control. The store is managed and run by a crew of paid staff with the help of volunteer workers.
Bruce Oscar, Assistant Manager, said, “The store is owned by local people. In fact, we have 5,000 people invested in the Co-op both financially and emotionally. Every dollar invested locally rolls over many times, creating a strong, vibrant community and tends to generate more local economic growth.”
The Co-op also features a laid-back dining area and sponsors numerous events during the year including the Downtown Country Fair, Third Thursday and Boom Box Parade on the Fourth of July.
The store is open to members and non-members alike. Every adult over 18 years pays a one-time processing fee of $1 to join the Co-op and then invests $120 worth of equity. Members pay the posted shelf price and have the option of working at the store to receive an additional discount. Non-members pay 10 percent above shelf price.
Hours for the Co-op are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., Saturday 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. You can contact the store at 860.456.3611 or visit their website at www.willimanticfood.coop.