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The ICO Article about the Co-op 5-Year Anniversary

In case you missed it, the ICO published this article on Page 9, top of the fold

Rick Beach, Special to the ICO

On Friday May 16 at Druids Hall in Point Arena, the Arena Market and Café celebrates five years of cooperative operation.

The party begins at 5pm with a potluck dinner and then music and dancing after 7pm to the music of Fast Company. Everyone in the community is welcome to join the festivities.

The vision for a community-owned cooperative natural and organic grocery store that supported local suppliers emerged in the fall of 2008. Initially, a group of about 35 community members saw a store that would be competitive with other grocery stores along the coast, owned by members who would benefit from member discounts, and provide a social gathering spot in Point Arena.

The Arena Market and Café opened in May 2009 in the retail space of the Oddfellows building on Main Street. It quickly built a loyal following among co-op members and grew its business to serve the community that owned it. Since opening, more than 500 people have joined the co-op.

The focus on local and organic foods remains a mainstay of the grocery business. One day, a group of high school students sought to prove the co-op wrong. They spent a fruitless hour or so on a quest to find some product with high-fructose corn syrup, a manufactured sweetener, and found none in drinks, cereals, candies, even chewing gum!

A cooperative means community ownership. Each member pays for shares in the corporation and receives one vote per member. This differs from typical corporations, where votes are based on the number of shares owned. The co-op welcomes new members every week.

In addition to shopping at the co-op, members provide financial support and volunteer time to help operate the grocery store.

Over the years, the co-op employed 80 people from the community, many of them high school students working at their first job. The on-going payroll has about 25 people working each week at the cash register, serving as a barista preparing coffees and bagels, stocking the shelves or preparing foods in the commercial kitchen. Turnover has been modest, with the average length of employment at 2.5 years.

Sales at the co-op exceeded $1 million a year for the past couple of years. Growth has been steady as the co-op depended upon member loyalty and survived the great recession. Loans from two community development agencies, one in Mendocino and the other in Arcata, provided most of the working capital. Loans from members provided the rest.

In addition, an innovative funding concept helped bridge the lean months of winter in the past three years. Members pre-paid for store purchases in the fall that added to the bank balance to pay suppliers and employees throughout the winter. Then starting in the spring, members shopped at the co-op and charged their purchases against the pre-paid store credit. The first time this happened was in the fall of 2011, and co-op members pre-paid about $10,000. Last fall, members pre-paid more than $20,000.

At the five-year anniversary party on Friday, the community is invited to celebrate the success of the Arena Market and Café.

Copyright © 2014 Arena Market & Cafe / Arena Organics, All rights reserved.