We had a lovely surprise the other day from one of our earliest Co-op owners and co-managers.
Jim Cohen, now a Reno area resident, saw the 1974 photo we ran in the last Rooted and contacted us to talk about the Co-op’s formative years. He was among a group of University of Idaho students and their friends who worked at the Co-op – first called the Good Food Store – after it opened in 1973.
“Moscow during the 70s was one of the most evolved places you could imagine,” Jim shared. He came here for college from Washington D.C., sight unseen. Moscow just seemed like it would meet his desire for an affordable college in a small town that might feel a bit like Davis, California, where he had grown up before his family moved to D.C. “Moscow was more like a miniature Berkeley back then, and the Good Food Store was a big part of that,” Jim, now 62, recalled.
Moscow was among the first cities in the country to have neighborhood recycling pick-up, there was a lot of yoga happening in the community, and we even had an all vegetarian restaurant on Third Street. Jim also remembers picking up hitchhikers and letting them crash at his house without any oversight or concern.
An informal community formed among those who took yoga classes and ate at the vegetarian restaurant, and many pitched in to make the Good Food Store work. For Jim and the others, the draw was that the Co-op was all bulk and all vegetarian. The small inventory was mostly peas, lentils, grains, peanut butter, cheeses, and spices.
But it wasn’t long before the store was faltering. Those who were students struggled to juggle work with school, and there wasn’t enough money coming in to provide anyone a living. The founders burned out and moved on to new opportunities. “It was really kind of falling apart,” Jim said.
In 1974, a friend from the yoga community, Skip Crossen, encouraged Jim to join the Board and work at the Co-op. Jim recalls a Board Meeting at the Student Union Building where he recommended that the Good Food Store become the Moscow Food Co-op. “I felt that people in town needed to know that we were a Co-op and were community oriented; the old name made it sound private,” Jim said.
The name changed, and with grant support from the Community Action Agency based in Lewiston, the Co-op moved to a slightly larger Main Street storefront across from the fire station. Jim became a co-manager with Sandy Ogle and someone named Michael. “I remember being there by myself late one night prior to opening, scrubbing the floors with everything out on the sidewalk, ready to move into the store,” he said.
Our roots started to take hold, despite some opposition. Jim recalls a sandwich shop owner actively working against the Co-op, complaining in the Daily Idahonian about the Co-op being subsidized. The Co-op found its audience, and that audience began to grow as more people became concerned about food quality, affordability, and how food practices impact the environment.
im needed steadier income, and so he took up carpentry and left in 1979 for a job back east. “I would have lived in Moscow the rest of my life, but I had to make a living,” he said. “My years in Moscow were some of the best in my life.”
We look forward to Jim’s visit this summer – his first since a trip here back in 1995!