I've been a co-op member for a long time. When I first moved back to the Twin Cities, I was a proud Hampden Park Co-op working member. Once or twice a month we would go in, stock the shelves, fill coolers, cut and package cheese, and do whatever needed to be done. It felt kind of like summer camp at Widji — a whole bunch of earthy crunchy types working together to make something happen.
In the 1990s, the corner of Selby and Dale was a bleak, empty lot. Various developers floated less and less attractive plans for the site, chastising the community for not falling over themselves to welcome an Un-Bank, a video chain, or fast food. We were told that spot would never be developed, that the neighborhood was too bad. We were told we needed to vacate streets and accept poor quality construction. We, as a neighborhood, said "No."
It was before the term "food desert" came into common use, but there weren't exactly a plethora of shopping options available. I worked with a group thinking about establishing our own hardscrabble co-op, and stayed up late looking st spreadsheets and options (see, nothing has changed). I just could not make it viable, and neither could anyone else on the team. Then, Mississippi Market hired a new General Manager, Allen Mathewson. Allen came in with a Southern drawl and made it his mission to get the Market board to expand. He and I sat many nights doing traffic counts on those corners. We talked to members, and to the community, and to anyone who would listen. And eventually, the board made the very risky decision to build there. It was a really rough few years as they started out, but they made it, and thrived.
Years later, that same store paid back its vote of confidence by funding the relocation and expansion of the Highland store when they lost their lease. And today, despite the encroachment of lots of other shopping options, Mississippi Market still thrives. I go to some of those other stores, but the Market still feels the most like home.
And now, in the same way the board once listened to my little group, they have responded to the Gateway co-op group on the East Side, and are proposing a new store over there, across from the Swede Hollow Cafe.
So for Patrick and myself, it was important to support that. We're not exactly rolling in extra funds right now. But yesterday we walked in and signed forms and put what we could into a member loan to help fund the new store.
And damn if it wasn't one of the best feelings I've had since holding a shovel at the Selby-Dale groundbreaking years ago.