Last Glimpse of Food Co-op Before Official Opening

Jeremiah Knupp -- May 17th, 2011

It was a strange scene for a Saturday morning at a grocery store. The shelves were bare and there were no aisles for the small crowd to mill through. No one was being rung up at a cash register. But the Friendly City Food Co-op, which opened its doors to showcase its progress to the community, hopes that this will be one of the last quiet Saturdays at its location on the corner of the Wolfe and Mason Streets before the store officially opens for business in June.

Plans to establish a “consumer owned, democratically run” (according to the FCFC mission statement) food store in Harrisonburg have been nearly five years in the making. Currently 1,199 people have signed up for $200 memberships, which give them part ownership in the store and a voice in how things are run. The store, which is in the same location that formerly housed Mick-or-Mack grocery, will feature fresh and frozen foods, natural health and cleaning products, many sourced locally, which will be open to both members and non-members. The plans are for the FCFC store to open the first weekend of June with a grand opening on July 9.



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52 Responses to “Last Glimpse of Food Co-op Before Official Opening”

  1. I wish I could have made it to this. Guess I’ll have to wait ’till opening day to see what they’ve done with the place. Last time I was in there was a year ago, when I wrote this story.

  2. Emmy says:

    The store looks great and will be a great addition to downtown! I can’t wait for the opening!! They’re looking for people to help get everything set up near the end of the month.

  3. Renee says:

    Great shots. Looking forward to shopping there!

    I heard that they will have a bring-your-own-container bulk section with the standard dry foods as well as wet foods like oil, vinegar, honey, and freshly-ground peanut butter.

  4. Joe says:

    a co-op, or owning shares….neat idea….

    • Suzi Carter says:

      Full disclosure: I work for Friendly City Food Co-op.

      That being said, I wanted to share that there are three typical kinds of co-ops (or cooperatives): producer-owner, worker-owned, consumer-owned. All three types are similar in that they are all owned by their members who benefit from the co-op, and are guided by the Seven Cooperative Principles:

      In Friendly City Food Co-op’s case, the cooperative is owned by its consumers (or community members). Individuals or entities may purchase shares for $200 each. Though regardless of the number of shares purchased, member-owners receive only one vote each to ensure democratic control.

      Very neat idea indeed!

  5. Delataire says:

    I’ll wait and see how it goes.

  6. mike says:

    I love the idea of a local foods/organic foods store, however after visiting the Friendly Foods store, I know I won’t be shopping there. The prices are simply more than I and my family can afford. I realize organic food costs more, but $5 for a pint of Ben and Jerry’s? Seriously, that the most expensive price in Harrisonburg. I was really looking forward to this store, but can’t afford to shop there.

    • David Miller says:

      Mike, Plain and simple you get what you pay for. I hope that the FCFC is charging enough so that we can have this great resource for years to come. Bargain basement pricing comes at a cost to someone be it underpaid workers, underpaid suppliers or infrastructure subsidized by the tax payers (think Wally world in Hburg as an example). Just my two cents

      • Brooke says:

        Amen, David! I’m tired of being part of the high cost of low prices. Yeah, I want to be frugal and watch my money, but I also want to be careful of how and where I spend my money and what does that money do? Does it go directly into the pockets of some huge corporation that mistreats it’s workers and suppliers in foreign countries? Or does it go into a locally owned store, where I can find fair trade items and items that were farmed using sustainable, responsible methods? If paying a bit more also means I have to skip the $5 a pint Ben & Jerry’s then so be it. My waistline will thank me.

        • Lowell Fulk says:

          I belong to the Brooke fan club, officially now… Already appreciated and admired her thoughtful and just nature and opinions, but this one put me to the point that I sent in for a membership.

          Not being a purchaser of ice cream I had now basis for comparison, so this evening when I stopped by Food Lion on 42 North on my way home from the office to purchase some fermented and aged grape juice (which isn’t offered at the FCFC) I checked to see what a pint of Ben and Jerry’s cost. $4.69… My thought is rather like that of Mr. Combs below. If 31 cents is the deal killer for someone on buying ice cream, perhaps ya just shouldn’t be buying ice cream in the first place…

    • Joe says:

      They have to make a profit for their shareholders

      • Emmy says:

        You are kidding right?

        • nicklaus combs says:

          anyone else find it odd and slightly amusing that family budget and ben & jerry’s would even be in the same sentence.

        • Joe says:

          about what? you don’t think the grocery store needs to make a profit? how else do you think they’ll stay in business?
          ironically we are talking abouta grocery store here…so adam smith is still very relevent: It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest.

          • Lowell Fulk says:

            I agree with Joe on this issue.

          • David Miller says:

            I don’t know why you think that I think that the FCFC wouldn’t need to make money? The trick is that they don’t have “shareholders” as you would typically think of it. They have loan holders but all members get 1 vote, regardless of their loan amount. No one is arguing communism, we’re talking about how deregulated/mis-regulated capitalism can hide cost form the consumer.

          • David Miller says:

            or from the consumer, either way my horse is a fun ride

          • Lowell Fulk says:

            David has a good sense of what running a successful business is all about.

  7. Emmy says:

    Mike I feel your pain. I knew from the beginning that it probably wouldn’t be a place I could shop at all the time. It’s simply not in the budget, but I buy a lot of the same things and so I know how much they cost everywhere in town. FCFC is more, but in some cases not that much more. My dish detergent is only about $0.50 more there than at Target so I’ll buy it at FCFC. It simply isn’t in my budget for it to be the only place I shop, but I’ll use it to supplement my other shopping until I’m in a better situation.

  8. Lowell Fulk says:

    Dianne and Claire shopped there to purchase some of the supplies for Claire’s Graduation cookout and were pleased and impressed.
    Wishing the FCFC much success!

  9. mike says:

    Re Nick: seriously? you are going to judge me and you don’t even know me? the reason I used Ben and Jerry’s is because everyone knows what it is and it can be found in every grocery store and at every gas station in the city. It’s an easy price comparison. You, as well as Dave, can step down off your high horse now. Just so you know, I’m part of a local crop share and I purchase a quarter of beef from a local farm in Lexington. I do what I can to buy local food because it’s healthier for my family. However, my point was the local foods store is made out to be this awesome savior and somehow if you shop there, you are saving the world, but it’s more expensive that what I can afford on a regular basis. And no Nick, I don’t have the latest and greatest I-phone (just the free every 2 year phone) or a new car or live in a monster house or go out to eat etc…and yes I shop at Wal-Mart, Sharp Shopper, Finder’s Keepers and Martins and I offer no apology for it.

    • nicklaus combs says:

      i’m just saying if you want to make a compelling argument using a product that most people would consider a luxury item (budget or not) probably isn’t the best avenue to deliver that message.

      as far as pricing goes compared to martin’s and walmart (and honestly i was surprised by this) i have found the co-op to be very similar if not exactly the same. side note: everyone is aware you could buy a shitty frozen pizza at walmart for 99 cents but when comparing prices it only makes sense to compare exact or very similar matches of items/brands. so maybe you should clarify whether you can’t afford co-op prices or if you cannot afford higher quality food on a family budget.

    • Brooke says:

      And as Lowell pointed out, the item in question costs 31 cents more than at Food Lion on 42. 31 cents on a higher end brand of ice cream is hardly the best example of a reason to write off a store.

      I don’t think anyone’s judging you, Mike. They just find your example choice an odd one.

      Mike If you buy 1/4 of a cow and have a share of CSA, then you do already know that some things are worth supporting, even if it ends up costing more. So I’m not sure why, even if you can’t afford to do most of your shopping there, you’d be so down on the FCFC.

      No, the FCFC is not a “saviour” and no we’re not going to single handedly save the world shopping there, BUT it IS something that Harrisonburg has needed for a while: locally owned place where people can regularly, and on a year-round basis, get a wide range of local and organic goods, fair trade grocery items, as well as other normal products. To expect them to be cheaper than most places around here borders on lunacy. They simply aren’t going to be able to offer the low prices of a national chain that orders in huge quantities over hundreds or thousands of stores. And while, like you, I won’t be able to afford to get *everything* from FCFC, I am very glad the resource is available and will use it as often as I can afford to, because I want to see them succeed. Some things are worth paying a little more for, and when I can, I will.

  10. Emmy says:

    My guess is that he may have used that item because it’s easily recognizable. I think the co-op’s prices are right where I expect them to be…they’re just not where my budget is in some cases.

    • Brooke says:

      I think that’s perfectly reasonable, Emmy. Again I don’t know that anyone’s really judging Mike for not being able to afford to shop at the Co-Op full time. I know I can’t afford to buy everything there either. There are some items that we’ll still end up getting at Martin’s or elsewhere.

      But the fact remains he wrote off the store using a silly comparison. Some things are going to cost quite a bit more, but on some items, the prices aren’t THAT different – including the much ballyhooed Ben & Jerry’s. A friend noticed one of their brands of organic milk is actually *cheaper* than it is at Martin’s.

      That’s why the ice cream such an odd example. It’s not that much more expensive. He made it sound like there was a difference of a dollar or two. And I’d also point out that, if he’s like me, he often buys those things on clearance or sale, and so it may be that that’s his method of comparison – and again, it’s not a great one. I can get Ben & Jerry’s for .99 at Sharp Shopper (if I’m not picky about the flavor). Doesn’t mean $5 is unreasonable for a pint elsewhere, not on sale. :-)

  11. Kirby says:

    After a visit to FCFC, I noticed a majority of the “local” products came from Mexico, Canada, California, etc. I can buy a watermelon from Red Front or Wally-World for $2.00 cheaper and it came from the same place as the FCFC one.
    To those who can afford to shop there; enjoy, pat yourself on the back as you peruse the aisles. As for me, I’ll shop wherever my limited budget allows me.

    • Bazrik says:

      Kirby, I don’t think you’re blowing the lid off of anything here. FCFC’s mission is to “create the Friendly City Food Co-op as a consumer-owned, democratically-run cooperative that will operate a retail grocery store that emphasizes healthy foods, quality goods, and local products.” (read more at their FB page).

      So, I think Emmy’s right – the items that are not local are brought in because they fall into the “healthy” or “quality” category, not “local”. I could understand your objection if they were called the “Local Foods Cooperative” or something…

  12. Emmy says:

    Kirby, I think you were misreading the local labeling. The local stuff comes from right around here. Some of the organic stuff comes from the places you mentioned.

    There is very local cheese, milk, bread, baked goods, coffee, meat and honey…just to name a few.

  13. David Miller says:

    Today was the first time I was ever able to buy sandwich meat without holding my breath and hoping. Love this place

    • Daniel says:

      Why would you buy sandwich meat from a place that you have to hold your breath at?

      • David Miller says:

        I guess what I mean is that this is the first time that I have seen sandwich meat that is from a reliable producer (not an industrial Cargill pseudonym that hides the meat’s true origin, Like Sunny Farm Feed that should really be Sunny Farms Feed Lot) though I think Martins and maybe Kroger probably has some along those lines. Thanks for taking me literally though. I am just really enamored with the Coop, they’re doing awesome at everything.

        • Joe says:

          so you don’t like Cargil….ok. hey not everyone can support local businesses…and one of the largest employers in the area….that’s fine…it’s a choice.

          what producers do the friendly city carry?

          • David Miller says:

            I don’t want to eat any factory meat, your choice is yours but don’t act like I’m not buying local meat, that’s all I buy. I also don’t buy food from Walmart but that doesn’t mean I don’t support employers (like the FCFC and the farmers they buy from).

          • Brooke says:

            I would argue that Cargill is about as “local” a business as Walmart is. Their website says that over 1/2 of their employees are in developing countries *cough*outsourcing*cough*. It may have a business location locally, but I wouldn’t categorize buying Cargill as “supporting local businesses.”

  14. Joe says:

    that’s great…like i said it’s your choice..some of my meat comes from the beef I raise myself…same with eggs. so I understand. so what meat do you buy? who produces it? does it have a label? where does the Friendly City buy it?

  15. David Miller says:

    I typically buy my beef from Mountain View Dairy at the Farmers Market, my pork from J&L Farms at the Market, my eggs from Sharon at the Market and in between market days I love that the FCFC has locally butchered T&E meats, particularly their brats which are awesome. I’m hoping that they pickup T&E chorizo, which is out of this world awesome!

  16. Joe says:

    Wal-Mart is local to Brooke. Both Cargill and Wal-Mart provide numerous jobs for the community.

    thanks for the info David, I’ll have to try the sausage! I love a good brat!

  17. Brooke says:

    Sorry. It’s not a local business. It’s a huge corporation with a location(s) in our area. You can say it may support the local work force, but buying at Walmart, Target or any of those places is not “supporting local business.” The vast majority of the money goes to the corporation – not the local community. I stand by that statement.

    I consider local businesses ones owned and operated by people in the local area, or at least within the state. Places like T&E, Taste of Thai, Local Chop & Grill, The Co-op, Red Front, etc. It goes beyond hiring locals. Everyone hires locals. If you use your definition, anyone who buys anything in Harrisonburg is “supporting local businesses.” It becomes meaningless as a phrase.

    To be clear, I’m not patting myself on the back here. It’s not like I never ever shop at Martin’s/Target/Costco/Starbucks. I’m just saying when I do, I don’t consider my shopping there to be “supporting local businesses.”

  18. Emmy says:

    Sorry Joe, Brooke is right. Cargill and Wal-Mart are not local businesses just because they hire local workers.

  19. Joe says:

    where do you all think the paychecks are spent? In the Community.

    obviously they are larger then just Harrisonburg/Rockingham county. But they are here, they employee A TON of people, that spend their money here….it’s great for the economy.

    • Brooke says:

      No one’s disputing any of that, Joe. Yes, local wages are probably used to buy stuff. Still, none of that makes them them local businesses, it makes them a local employer. Period. Again, like I said, if you follow your logic, anyone buying anything in Harrisonburg is “supporting local business.” To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, “You keep saying that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.” ;-)

      Now, I’m going to bow out, because honestly, I feel like we’re just going around in circles at this point.

      Happy 4th, Joe! :-)

  20. MF says:


    For a business to be a “local business” it has to be owned by someone in the city/county and managed by locals.

    • Joe says:

      well management at both Wal-Marts and the numerous Cargil plants, farms, etc live in the area…so there you go.

  21. Emmy says:

    Still not a local business Joe…but nice try. It needs to be owned by locals as well. They are local employers, not local businesses. Brooke’s Princess Bride quote was quite fitting.

  22. Joe says:

    I think Brooke, and may of you are confusing the term local business, with locally owned business.

  23. Lowell Fulk says:

    Question: Why does the existence of the FCFC seem to bother some folks so much?

    • Bazrik says:

      I have NO friggin idea, Lowell, but it’s a darn good question.

      I know there’s a lot of outcry against Wal Mart and the like by folks who want to stay local… or locally-OWNED, whatever. I know of certain towns up north (and elsewhere) that actually ban Wal Marts and the like from their towns. They want to see as little money as possible go out of their area, they disapprove of the business practices of Wal Mart, etc.

      Now, some of these folks can get a little carried away. It’s like I’ve always observed – no matter if you’re “right” or “left”, the minute you get fanatical, you’re a zealot, plain and simple. So, the people who rail against Wal Mart to the extreme – saying it’s “evil”, “out to get you”, etc. – they tend to cross a line.

      Maybe the people who patronize Wal Mart (I am not one of them) get defensive at this and, in turn, lash out against businesses that stand for the opposite of a Wal Mart. Like FCFC.

      Maybe that’s it, I don’t know. But it seems a reaction more than anything.

    • Joe says:

      Not sure….I never realized there actually knew it bothered people or there was an issue…that’s really news to me. I think any addition to the economy is great. I hope it’s able to stay in business…I think it’s found a niche so maybe it will.

  24. Emmy says:

    I don’t know either. But I will say that I shop at Wal-Mart sometimes (I try to avoid it but I’m not perfect) and I became a member of the co-op very early on when it was still in the early planning. I knew it wasn’t going to be a place I could afford to shop at all the time, but I knew Harrisonburg needed it and I wanted it very badly! Perhaps it is some reaction to the idea that people might look down on you if you shop at Wal-Mart and not the co-op. I guess I just take the approach that small steps are better than no steps and I’ll buy what I can from the co-op whenever possible.

    I’m thrilled that it’s here and hope to see everyone at the grand opening on Saturday!!

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