Moscow Food Co-op History
It was August 1973 when our Co-op took root in Moscow. At that time, the nation was riveted by a Senate investigation into any illegal or unethical acts by the Nixon Presidential campaign related to the Watergate break-in at the Democratic National Committee office. Jim Croce’s recently released “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown” was in heavy rotation, spending two weeks at number one in July. And E. F. Schumacher’s “Small is Beautiful – Economics as if People Mattered” was hitting bookstores and deepening growing concern that modern economic practices are unsustainable.
It was a fertile time for growing a cooperative grocery store in Moscow. Counterculture ideas and increasing concern about soil, water, and air pollution were spurring the formation of natural food cooperatives all across the country in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
So too in Moscow, when friends Rod Davis, Jim Eagan, and Dave and Katie Mosel decided to start a natural foods store to address their concerns about rising food costs and the environmental impact of corporate food production. First called the Good Food Store, our founders opened our doors at 112 East Second Street with an inventory that consisted of peas, lentils, cheese, spices, and a few miscellaneous items. We were run entirely by volunteers, and in our first month sales totaled $126.88. In the second month sales grew to $1,000 – it was clear that Moscow wanted its Good Food Store!
Then, with 25 members and a few grants and individual loans in place, the Good Food Store officially became a nonprofit cooperative association with the state of Idaho on April 25th, 1974. Six locations and 41 years later, we’re now guided by more than 7,000 local owners who engage in the cooperative business model to build a socially responsible food and goods system. Throughout this history the Moscow Food Co-op has always been more than the buildings from which we’ve sold lentils and our pesto rolls. Our cooperative is the community of owners who sustain this store for the benefit of our broader community.
- by Joan Rutkowski, Owner Engagement Coordinator, for Rooted magazine (Winter 2014-2015)
THE MOSCOW FOOD CO-OP TIMELINE
1973: Rod Davis, Jim Eagan, and Katie and Dave Mosel open the Good Food store on 112 East 2nd St. First months sales $126.88. Second month’s sales: over $1000
1974: Co-op incorporates with 25 new members. A Community Action Agency grant helps the Co-op.
1975: Store moves to new location on 610 S. Main. Name officially changes to Moscow Food Co-op.
1976: The Co-op organizes Moscow’s Farmers Market to provide a meeting ground for buyers and sellers of fresh local produce. Eventually the City’s Arts Commission takes over and moves it to Friendship Square.
1978: The Co-op moves again to 314 S. Washington. We participate in the Renaissance Fair for the first time.
1980-1982: The Co-op faces stiff competition from area supermarkets. Managers are sent to business seminars and volunteers receive more training, and we get aggressive about broadening our appeal- cookware; socks, coffee and vitamins are sold.
1985: New management system adapted to include co-coordinators and a General Manager with assistants. The Co-op loses investment in Equinox, a regional wholesaler, due to their collapse.
1986: The Co-op faces financial difficulties. Members chip in and make a difference. A new produce cooler is purchased.
1989: We move to 310 W. 3rd, former home of Kentucky Fried Chicken, get our first parking lot, and business increases 40 percent.
1990: Co-op opens its own bakery. A second cash register is added.
1991: Kenna Eaton is hired as the Co-op’s General Manager after her most recent role as Produce Manager.
1992: Staff increases to 20 employees and sales break $100,000 for December. Offices are moved upstairs.
1993: We celebrate our 20th anniversary. Staff and shoppers feel very cramped at present location, and the Board begins the search for a new facility.
1994: Staff resets entire store to create more space and refreshes the store with new paint and fixtures.
1998: Co-op celebrates its 25th anniversary with a Taste Fair and a party. Negotiations are successful for a new location and Co-op owners lend the store over $77,000 to remodel & relocate.
1999: Co-op re-opens in January at 221 E. 3rd St. (former home of Safari Pearl) with increased sales floor space, increased kitchen space, and a loading dock. Sales grow 38% in our first year at this location.
2000: The Co-op continues to grow and prosper in its new location with sales growth of 15%. An indoor seating area is added for the deli.
2002: Sales for the Co-op continue to grow at 20% for the year. Co-op is able to start 2% Tuesdays: a grant program to award 2% of sales from Tuesdays in one month to a local organization. Co-op purchases and installs a POS system that involves touch screens and perpetual inventory.
2003: Sales continue to grow and we begin to feel cramped in our office space. We work on improving internal systems and growing a financially sound business.
2005: The Co-op negotiates a 15-year lease on the old Safeway building in the heart of downtown Moscow. The move to 121 East 5th St. is made in October; sales (and staff) immediately double.
2007: The Board of Directors adopts the “policy governance” framework and develops policy manual to better define and separate governance from daily operations.
2008-2009: Margins drop and the Co-op is put on the National Cooperative Grocers Association watch list. Financial and managerial changes are made and systems are improved to help address concerns.
2011: General Manager Kenna Eaton leaves for Port Townsend’s Co-op in February after working at the Moscow Food Co-op for 27 years.
2012: In November the Board hires Melinda Schab, former Wellness Manager, as the Co-op's GM, a role she still holds to this day.
2013: A Board-appointed committee launches an extensive process to seek owner feedback and update the Co-op’s Strategic Plan. Patronage Dividends are distributed to owners for the first time in the Co-op’s history; the distribution is based on 2012 financial activity.
2014: The Board announces new Strategic Plan priorities for the Co-op to guide 2015-2020. Patronage Dividends for 2013 financial activity are shared with owners. A 10% discount for owners who are 55 and older is instituted and offered every Tuesday.
2015: A 10% discount for college students on Fridays is instituted. In April, the Co-op launches FLOWER, an owner discount program designed to directly increase food access and educational resources to those most in need. FLOWER stands for Fresh, Local, Organic Within Everyone’s Reach. Those who qualify receive a 10% discount in the store.
Fall 2015: The Board and GM hold two Owner Forums -- one in Moscow and one in Pullman -- to discuss the process for opening a store in Pullman, address questions, and gather ideas. Store leadership continue to research locations and feasibility.
2017: The Co-op is no longer the only consumer-facing cooperative in Moscow! The Main Street Video Co-op officially buys the remaining shares of Howard Hughes Video on Main Street.
Spring 2018: The Moscow Food Co-op takes its first step into growth by opening the Co-op on Campus, where students, staff, faculty, and more can buy packaged and co-op-made food, sodas, snacks and personal care products.