3 Generations of Building Co-op Community

With 42 years of business under our belt, we’ve noticed that some families now have a third generation walking (or being carried!) through our doors. Through the voices of three families with three generations of Co-op shoppers, here’s a look at highlights from our history and what draws families here.

The Gormley and Venzke families

 Gina, Willow, Lauren, Leyna, and Lukas

Gina, Willow, Lauren, Leyna, and Lukas

Gina and her life partner, Bill London, moved to Moscow from St. Maries, Idaho in 1984 and began shopping at the Co-op right away. Then, the store was in a small commercial space at 314 South Washington, across from today’s police station.

“We liked the kind of groovy, organic food they sold and the co-operative spirit,” Gina says.

Bill, a freelance writer, was a founding member of a now-defunct St. Maries food co-op. For those who knew him, it’s no surprise that he eagerly took on the Co-op’s newsletter and turned it into the substantive and edgy monthly Community News. Bill was editor-in-chief for more than 25 years before being elected to the Board of Directors in 2012. He passed away in May 2013.

While Bill was drawn to encouraging the dialogue that strengthens a democratically guided Co-op, Gina was happily “just a shopper,” as she describes it, bringing their daughter Willow with her to shop for local and organic food and goods.

A special treat for the family was “Wha Guru Chews”, a sweet and salty mix of caramel, seeds, and nuts. Now married and with her own children, Willow still recalls enjoying the chews as a kid. Her memories of the Co-op’s 310 West 3rd location, which we moved to in 1989, are even stronger. Many co-opers know this as “the old Kentucky Fried Chicken” – the two-story orange and purple building that still stands at 3rd and South Almon streets.

Willow remembers shopping for presents at the Co-op’s holiday craft market that was held upstairs, and the smell of fresh bread from the second-floor bakery. The Co-op’s bakery began at the old KFC, and now 25 years later Willow’s three children are enjoying some of the same Co-op baked treats – especially the pesto rolls – that she loved as a kid.

Willow also savors being able to buy healthy food for her family, while her kids walk around the store, feeling as comfortable as they do at home. She says, “Grocery shopping becomes an enjoyable experience rather than a chore when you run into friends, eat at the deli, and meet friendly workers and shoppers. It’s a community, and I really appreciate that.”

The Canary and Gale families

Linda Canary and Jim Gale started shopping at the Co-op in 1989 after moving here from Lake Fork, Idaho. Linda, an artist, immediately got involved as a volunteer and painted four large murals of vegetables for the old KFC location.

 Finn, Sam, Jim, and Linda

Finn, Sam, Jim, and Linda

The family was drawn to the Co-op by the emphasis on organic food. Their son Finn, who is now grown, married, and a frequent shopper with his own young son, says his strongest memory of the KFC location was the smell of carob. As a child he also was enthralled by the Co-op’s encapsulation machine, a finicky machine his parents used to make their own herbal supplements. The machine was retired after one break-down too many.

The Co-op got its first espresso machine while at the old KFC location, and Jim recalls the controversy this caused. “The emphasis was supposed to be on organic, bulk, and other healthy foods, and espresso represented a shift away from that,” Jim says. “Well, we got over that when they passed out free samples.”

Similar tensions arose (and then subsided) when the Co-op started carrying wine, and later, meat. Jim and Linda miss these edgier times, when people seemed to be more radical in their habits and vocal about their beliefs: the Co-op sold political stickers, the urinals didn’t use water, and political positions were more openly declared.

Linda volunteered for more than 20 years as a Participating Owner. She has packaged bulk items, culled produce, helped in the bakery, and written for the Community News. Jim served on the Board during the move from the old KFC building to the 3rd and Jefferson location (now Safari Pearl) in 1999. He was an advocate for improving employee wages and benefits. And as a paid contractor, he has helped the Co-op remodel and move into its various homes over the years, including our last move to this former Safeway building.

Finn’s parents’ involvement meant that he spent a lot of time at the Co-op throughout his childhood and teenage years. “You end up wandering around when your parents run into their friends and start talking,” he says. “Now I do that. That’s one of the things I like at the Co-op – you can stop and have a real conversation with the people who work here. I’ve built up my arm strength having long conversations while holding Sam!”

The Cernik and Thompson families

 Shawn, Crispin, and Leslie

Shawn, Crispin, and Leslie

Shawn Cernik and her family moved to the area from Littleton, Colorado in 1998 and visited the Co-op at its KFC location. In 1999, when the Co-op moved to the 3rd and Jefferson storefront that is now home to Safari Pearl, the Co-op became part of the Cerniks’ “town day,” during which they take care of several errands. Back then, the routine started with a 7 a.m. visit to the next-door laundry mat. The kids would help start the laundry while they patiently waited for Annie Hubble, whom these days is our Front End Manager, to arrive and open the store.

“The kids loved being her little helpers – getting rugs set out and grocery bags opened up and ready for customers,” Shawn recalls.

Joseph Erhard-Hudson, another long-time Co-op employee with many talents, would give the kids a taste of what he was baking. Her daughter, Leslie, remembers those mornings well. “Often after opening we would be treated with half of a cinnamon roll or some other treat, and we got to know a few of the older regulars,” Leslie says. “It was the highlight of our week.”

Now she is Leslie Thompson, and she brings her 10-month-old son to our current location. His highlight so far is riding in the shopping cart and eating the roasted red pepper coconut soup. “I am very thankful for the Co-op’s ability to pull together many local products and for the relationships that were created so long ago that remain to this day,” she says.

Leslie, Shawn, and Shawn’s other grown children now meet up for lunch at the Co-op on most weekly town days. Shawn says, “The most welcome change over the 17 years I’ve been a patron of the Co-op was when it moved to the current location and had room to add more hot and cold meals, salads, and drinks and a seating area to enjoy conversation with my now-adult kids.” - Joan Rutkowski