New Tacoma grocery co-op opens Saturday. Stock to include nut butters, bulk items, organics

News Tribune |

--A new Tacoma grocery co-op is opening in Tacoma's West End.

Much like the wait for McMenamins, Central Co-op has been a long time coming since its Sixth Avenue store abruptly closed over lease issues in summer 2016.

More challenges followed, including finding a new site that offered plenty of parking. After an interim CEO worked to oversee the Tacoma store remodel, a permanent CEO was named earlier this year.

The new store, at 4502 N. Pearl St., is a full-service grocery with dine-in options. On Wednesday, workers were bustling to stock, clean and get the store organized before its first day.

"You can see how grand and beautiful it is," Central Co-op CEO Catherine Willis Cleveland told The News Tribune during an on-site preview. "We've put in a full-service deli, made-to-order food, space for a hot bar -- the flow is a big part of the features, as well as a really robust center store."

The store will emphasize bulk foods, independent brands and organic produce and meats along with an array of health and wellness items. More than 400 independent grocers serve Central Co-op's Seattle store, and the co-op hopes to mirror that here, Cleveland said.

"There are 2,000 co-op members from the former Tacoma store coming with us to the new store, and we absolutely took suggestions," she said.

Among those suggestions: local honey in bulk and five different nut butters, also in the bulk section.

"The whole bulk section has a lot of different offerings and a way for people to be price conscious and minimizes packaging," Cleveland said.

The co-op, which started in Seattle in 1978, merged with Tacoma's Food Co-op in .

On its website, the co-op says its stores are "dedicated to high-quality products, sustainable practices and strong relationships with Washington farmers and artisans."

It describes itself as a "Solidarity Cooperative, where consumer and worker shares are an equity investment that helps us purchase inventory and equipment, finance operations and minimize outside debt.

"Owners also support the Co-op by shopping and working here and by participating in the Co-op's democratic processes, like voting in our elections or serving on our board," according to the website.

"Anytime we choose local we're making a positive step, minimizing how far things are trucked in and supporting local businesses," Cleveland explained. "A lot of small vendors don't produce enough product to be carried by huge distributors ... so we're a place they can get their first chance at a grocery store and expand throughout the state. For others, this is just the right amount of production for them."

The new store has 46 workers, compared with 14 at its previous Sixth Avenue site. The new store is 19,000 square feet. The previous store was 4,600 square feet.

Two of the store's employees are from the previous Tacoma store.

As for membership, people can either join through the Central Co-op website or in person at the cash register, or not at all.

The sign at the front of the store says "Community-owned, all shoppers welcome."

"It's important for people to see that," Cleveland said. "You don't have to be a member to shop here."

A one-time $100 membership fee can be paid in $10 monthly increments. Cleveland noted some join for the store's discounts, others for the cause.

"It's democratically run, so you have a vote and say on how it's governed and how decisions are made," she said.

The store's opening day will include pygmy goats in the parking lot, face painting, live music, vendor samples and more.

"It's going to be a big party," she said.

And she says that opening-day energy is going to last.

"It's going to stay festive here," Cleveland said. "There's a special energy that happens with co-ops. It's the opposite of top-down style; it's community minded."

Central Co-op

Address: 4502 N. Pearl St., Tacoma

Grand opening events:

Regular store hours: daily.

Website: centralcoop.coop

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(c)2019 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

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