In 1994, a small group of the people recognized the need for a community food co-op in the St. Johnsbury area. This initial core grew as word spread about the formation of a co-op. At first, meetings were held at the Cobleigh Library, then at people's homes, and finally in the basement of a local church.
In the preliminary stages of the developing co-op, there was great vision. We wanted to incorporate community education, alternative healing, a natural foods restaurant and deli, music and dance among other possibilities. Not all these ideas came to fruition, but it is still a vision that many hold for the possible future. Committees such as co-op location, marketing, bylaws, business plan and financial were formed.
There were many issues that took a lot of time and energy. Some of the major ones included finding a store location, determining the co-op's name, developing the vision and mission statements to coordinate with the business plan, and securing loans. There were many lengthy discussions about whether to start on a large or small scale, and whether all members should be required to work.
Some co-ops initially started in the 1970's from large scale buying clubs that turned into storefronts. Although we did have a buying club as a separate entity, the St. J. Food Co-op did not begin as a buying club. Skipping this step made it more complex when encouraging people to become members, because they were buying into a concept rather than an established system. By 1998, after a tremendous amount of outreach, we had 100 members. This enabled us to show the lending institutions that we had the community support necessary to secure the start-up loans. Once the co-op space was found and loan money secured, a consolidated effort went into the initial set-up. In three month's time, co-op members built the checkout counter and shelves, painted, cleaned, located equipment, and helped with the very large first order by unloading the truck, and stocking the shelves.
Starting a co-op is a huge undertaking. It would have been much simpler had there been one owner. Coming to consensus with a group is a much more difficult and time-consuming task, but it is also very rewarding. All of the members involved were dedicated to the co-op concept of having a member-owned, not-for-profit business that meets the needs of the community.
After four years in the making, the St. Johnsbury Community Food Co-op opened one Saturday, July 25, 1998. As with all businesses, the co-op faced a variety of challenges. But with the strong support of the co-op community, we knew that no challenge would be too great.