When Co-ops Inspire

By Matt Stanley/General Manager
Published in the Co-op’s Winter 2015 Newsletter

Visiting our fellow food co-ops across the country is practically a pastime for me. My wife doesn’t always get what all the fuss is about, but she’ll oblige a visit to the local co-op because it usually means a source for eating healthy on the road.

Recently, our Board of Directors generously gave an entire weekend to the task of writing the store’s five year strategic plan. We decided to make a trip up to Port Townsend for our retreat this year. We chose Port Townsend because of the similarities between it and the City of Astoria.

Both cities have similar populations. Both have downtowns that are characterized by locally owned businesses. Astoria has slightly lower median household incomes (about 5% less). And Astoria and Port Townsend alike are relatively isolated from major highway corridors. But most of all, of course, we chose to travel to Port Townsend because it boasts a successful food co-op!

Kenna Eaton is the Port Townsend General Manager. She, too, generously gave of her time to give our Board of Directors a tour of the Co-op she manages. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of visiting this co-op, you’ll know that it is considerably larger than our food co-op. In fact, it is about the size store we are beginning to envision for ourselves here in Astoria. And this size is not overwhelming. Even though it is nearly quadruple our size, it still very much felt like a food co-op. Photos of local producers adorned the walls. Staff was accessible and friendly. We envied the expansive produce section, customer service desk, filtered water filling station, and more than ample deli seating area. They had some neat ideas in the store too. For example, a section of the store was reserved for local cottage industry producers to sell their wares (for no charge) directly to consumers.

But the Port Townsend Co-op is running out of room! They sell more than $13 million in heathy foods each year, mostly to their consumer owners. They employ over 100 folks. Their well laid-out and merchandised store betrays a back stock nightmare. They simply do not have enough room to store all the products that they sell. Each morning, staff rolls all the back stock of packaged grocery items outside underneath a tent. At night, it comes back in. This takes a lot of work!

Such a process reminds me of some of the inefficiencies that our store endures. Receiving our large grocery, produce, and meat deliveries outside in the rain comes to mind. Fortunately for both Co-ops, we are carefully planning our futures to accommodate our growing needs and aspirations. The Port Townsend Co-op prominently displays their recently created strategic plan. We are looking forward to

sharing our plan in the coming months. It will communicate the big ideas, goals, and focus points that will guide our decision making as we plan for more space.

Thank you to the Port Townsend Co-op for showing our Board of Directors what is possible, even in a small town, when we cooperate. And thank you to all Astoria Co-op Grocery owners for being a part of our planning process. We look forward to continually improving our store and all that it has to offer to our community. And next time you are traveling, be sure to check out the local food co-op. If you see ideas, products, or practices that you like, be sure to let us know!


Matt has been the Astoria Co-op Grocery General Manger since April 2008. To contact him, please e-mail matt@astoria.coop