Selling tomaytos (and much else) co-operatively

Know your history.

I’ve been going on here about the importance of ensuring the experiences and lessons of the ‘new wave’ of co-ops established in the 1970s are not forgotten, so I’ve been pleased to read a history of one very successful wholefood co-operative, founded in 1974 and still going strong today.

Ah, there is twist. The book (Co-opportunity, The Rise of a Community Owned Market) tells the story not of a British co-op but of the co-operative business Co-opportunity based in Santa Monica, southern California. But, to be honest, it could so easily be a British co-op being described.  Here are the same tales of early triumphs against the odds, of the development of decision making structures, of difficulties and disputes and of how they were resolved, and of how the spirit of improvisation could sometimes save the day. As in this entertaining extract:

“While building the new addition, we wondered how to provide space for meetings…. With ground floor retail at a premium, we came up with the idea of building a loft above the cold storage coolers. A couple of our members who were carpenters built the contraption. You got there by climbing a ladder and then sat under the wide strips of silver-backed insulation and the unfinished roof.  There were no windows; it was very warm in summer…”

The book is written by David J Thompson, a Lancastrian by birth (Blackpool, to be precise) who has lived in the US for all his adult life.  David was one of the founder members of Co-opportunity and is a lifelong co-operative activist. It was good to see David at the recent Ways Forward conference in Manchester when I was able to buy the book off him.  I’m not sure how it’s distributed normally but I am sure David himself would tell you: his email is dthompcoop@aol.com.

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