What are Cooperatives Anyway?

Steve Bodzin
www.newvillage.net, reprinted by permission

At the end of the 18th century, cooperatives began when people started creating organizations through which they could buy products as a group, without giving extra money to a commercial middleperson. For 200 years, cooperatives have been proving that democratically controlled businesses can meet the need for healthier products, workplace environments and business-community relations. Today, there are over 700 million members of cooperatives worldwide, providing everything from grain elevator maintenance to Internet access. There are several types of cooperatives:

  • Consumer cooperatives. They are most often associated with health food stores but are not limited to edible industries. Sportswear giant REI is one example of a consumer cooperative not related to food.
  • Worker cooperatives or collectives. They are businesses owned and controlled by employees and can be found in nearly any type of business. Minneapolis’ very own Seward Cafe is an example of a worker cooperative. In agriculture, worker cooperatives are common among farmers, who pool resources to gain the benefits of being a large business.
  • Non-profit housing and land cooperatives. They buy buildings or land and provide real estate for members, taking the properties off the speculative market.


What makes co-ops so different?

Cooperatives often draw on values from environmental and social justice movements, and thus create very different connections to their communities than purely profit-driven companies. It is also no coincidence that many cooperatives share roots in the social rebellions of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Many cooperatives often distinguish themselves in three ways: their products, their environments, and their relationship with the community.


Cooperatives have had the greatest successes where more mainstream businesses have neglected a group of consumers or the demand for a product. For almost 20 years, form the bike boom of the early 1970’s until the growth of the bicycle advocacy in the early 1990’s, the bicycle industry all but ignored cycling as practical transportation. So environmentally-minded people were forced to start their own manufacturing and operations shops. To a lesser degree, the same pattern has prevailed for the most ubiquitous cooperative business, the health food store. Organic and whole foods were all but impossible to get at for-profit supermarkets until recently.


Another way in which cooperatives differ from most for-profit business is in the design of their retail space. With cooperatives, there is often less diversion between “customer space” and “work space” than at a typical store. Bicycle repair stands aren’t hidden in a bike room at a bike shop and cooking and prep are done out in the open at a restaurant. Many cooperatives also demonstrate commitments to social responsibility, and these benefits extend to workers and member-customers alike. The Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco offers a child care center and homemade hot meals for lunch or dinner.


Cooperatives also have very different relationships with their communities than most for-profit businesses. Cooperative business is cooperation among cooperativesÑwhich can lead to remarkable community-building. For example, Cody’s, a local independent bookstore, works with PedEx to offer same-day home delivery of reading material, in an effort to compete with Amazon.com. A creative benefit to volunteers and employees, while working with the community, could be volunteers getting “paid” with performance passes or discounts at other local businesses.

Support your Twin Cities Cooperatives:


Retail Grocery:

Anoka Food Co-op and Cafe 1917 2nd Ave. South Anoka, MN 55303 763-427-4340 763-427-3552 (cafe) East Side Food Coop 2516 Central Ave NE Minneapolis, MN 55418 612-788-0950 eastsidefoodcoopstaff@yahoo.com www.eastsidefood.coop Hampden Park Food Co-op 928 Raymond Ave. St. Paul, MN 55114 651-646-6686 Lakewinds Natural Foods 17523 Minnetonka Blvd. Minnetonka, MN 55345 952-473-0292 lwccn@minn.net www.lakewinds.com Linden Hills Food Co-op 2813 W. 43rd Street Minneapolis, MN 55410 612-922-1159 info@lindenhillscoop.com www.lindenhills.coop Mississippi Market Food Co-op (2 locations) 1810 Randolph Ave. St. Paul, MN 55105 651-690-0507 622 Selby Ave. St. Paul, MN 55104 651-310-9499 msmarket@earthlink.net http://msmarket.coop/ North Country Co-op 1929 South 5th St. Minneapolis, MN 55454 612-338-3110 www.northcountrycoop.com River Market Community Co-op 221 North Main St. Stillwater, MN 55082 651-439-0366 info@rivermarket.coop http://www.rivermarket.coop/ Seward Co-op Grocery 2201 East Franklin Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55404 612-338-2465 cust@seward.coop http://www.seward.coop/ Valley Natural Foods Co-op 13750 County Rd. 11 Burnsville, MN 55337 (952) 891-1212 -nfo@valleynaturalfoods.coop http://www.valleynaturalfoods.coop Wedge Community Food Co-op 2105 Lyndale Ave. South Minneapolis, MN 55405 612-871-3993 www.wedge.coop


Hard Times Cafe 1821 Riverside Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55454 612-341-9261 Saint Martins Table 2001 Riverside Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55454 612-341-0871

Wholesale Food Distribution:

Co-op Partners Warehouse 746 Vandalia St. St. Paul, MN 55114 651-644-7000 Peace Coffee 2105 1st Ave. S Minneapolis, MN 55404 612-870-3440 info@peacecoffee.com www.peacecoffee.com


Full Circle Organic Growers Coop RR1 Box 52BB Lake City, MN 55041 507-753-2080 Whole Farm Coop 33 2nd St. S, Lower Level Long Prairie MN 56347 320-732-3023 info@wholefarmcoop.com www.wholefarmcoop.com


Amazon Bookstore Cooperative 4432 Chicago Ave. S. Minneapolis, MN 55407 amazon@amazonbookstorecoop.com www.amazonbookstorecoop.com Arise Bookstore & Resource Center 2441 Lyndale Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55405 612-871-7110 arise@arisebookstore.org www.arisebookstore.org Mayday Bookstore 301 Cedar Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55454 612-333-4719


2615 Park Avenue Associates 2615 Park Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55405 612-871-2808 ext 10 2615parkavenue.com Chateau Student Housing Cooperative 425 13th Ave. SE Minneapolis, MN 55414 612-331-3911 http://www.chateau.coop/ Franklin Student Housing 2300 East Franklin Ave. Minneapolis, MN 612-338-4574 office@franklincoop.org Marcy Park Student Coop Housing 700 8th St. SE & 1000 8th St. SE Minneapolis, MN 55414 612-331-3911 http://www.marcypark.coop Monterey Cohousing Community 2925 Monterey Ave. St. Louis Park, MN 55416 952-930-7554 http://www.jimn.org/mococo/mococo.html

Credit Unions:

Twin City Co-ops Federal Credit Union P.O. Box 130670 Roseville, MN 55113 651-215-3500 or 800-331-8244 (outside Metro area) msc@tcuconnect.com www.tcuconnect.com For a listing of additional credit unions in Minnesota, visit: www.bankrate.com/smm/news/cu/19990526c.asp#minnesota


Extreme Noise Record Shop 407 West Lake St. Minneapolis, MN 55408 612-824-0100 www.extremenoise.com Northland Poster Collective 800-627-3082 info@northlandposter.com www.northlandposter.com


MSI Insurance Two Pine Tree Dr. St. Paul, MN 55112 651 631 7000 Seward Co-op Child Care 2323 32nd Ave. S. Minneapolis, MN 55406 612-724-3030 Whole Builders Cooperative (Design and Construction) 2928 5th Ave. S. Minneapolis, MN 55408 612-824-6567 http://www.wholebuilders.com/


See Also: Arts: Food Co-ops Arts: Co-op Housing


Our Sponsors