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Our History

Above: The former Central Co-op store at 12th & Denny, in the 1990s

1978: The then-Central Co-op opened on Capitol Hill at 12th Avenue and East Denny Way, October 16, 1978. Rising from the ashes of the outgoing Capitol Hill Co-op, and with crucial financial and techinical support from Puget Consumers Co-op (PCC), the Co-op started out with just 100 owners and was led by a 3-person collective.

Early 1980s: Co-op membership hit 5,000. As the Co-op began outgrowing the original space, the store and property were purchased and the warehouse expanded. The collective restructured to a 4-person management team. 

1989: A major expansion project was completed with financing from the National Cooperative Bank Development Corporation, winning an award from the Seattle Design Commission. That year, with 20 workers, the Co-op achieved $1,786,758 in sales. 

1995: Non-managerial store workers won a contract with United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW). 

1996: Despite competition from more mainstream natural foods grocers, Central stayed the cooperative course by adopting the internationally-recognized Seven Cooperative Principles.

Right: Building out our current store at 16th & East Madison St.

As Central continued to grow, ambitious plans were made to open a new store, and the 12th Ave store was closed in the process.

Summer of 1999: Central Co-op's Madison Market opened in our current Seattle location, at 16th Avenue and East Madison Street. On July 13, Board and staff members symbolically "transferred the culture" to the new market: They carried a tub of yogurt culture seven blocks to the new store. 

2000s: The recession struck home in the Northwest. We saw support for co-ops as economic and cultural alternatives, including Central, become stronger than ever. Sales and ownership continued to grow.

2002: Non-managerial administrative workers won a contract with Industrial Workers of the World (IWW).

Late 2000s: The Co-op underwent an important rebranding process, dropping "Madison Market" from the name, and reclaiming its roots with our original title, Central Co-op. Central also retired the beet logo and adopted the more modern, eater-oriented fork. And from the Board came guiding language that captured our identity, values, and purpose, describing us as a member-owned natural foods cooperative in the heart of Seattle dedicated to sustainable practices, community accountability, and the local food economy.

2006: Beginnings were stirring of South Sound cooperativism and the future partnership between Seattle and Tacoma cooperators. In 2006, a group of Tacoma residents recognized the need for an affordable urban grocery that would provide local, organic, and natural foods. The steering committee that formed from this meeting decided a cooperative business model would best meet that need.

Fall of 2009: Owners of the then-Tacoma Food Co-op elected the first Board of Directors, the elected body responsible for making major decisions of the Co-op, with all owners encouraged to run for the Board.

2011: After a huge membership drive and lots of support from the community, the 6th Ave, Tacoma store opened its doors as the Tacoma Food Co-op, at the corner of 6th and Junett.

Right: The Tacoma store Grand Opening, September 10, 2011

2013: On October 16, the then-Central Co-op turned 35! The previous September, owners voted to pass updated, more efficient Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation. The following year, the Board wrote new Ends, the Board's vision for how the Co-op will positively impact our community.

January 2014: With new store leadership and these new Bylaws, the Central Co-op launched an overhauled owner benefits package that was even bigger, sustainable, and more equitable.

January of 2015: Central Co-op signed a historic contract with UFCW 21, increasing the Co-op's entry-level wage to $15 per hour - making our full compensation package what we believe to be the most progressive of any grocer in the nation.

Summer of 2015: Central Co-op launched a partnership with Instacart to offer home delivery, which allows Central Co-op to serve even more owners and customers from our Seattle brick-and-mortar store.

October of 2015: The then-Central Co-op signed a lease for 20 more years at our 16th & Madison store.

December 28, 2015: After historic elections at both co-ops, with record numbers of votes and landslide decisions in favor of the changes, the owners and boards of Tacoma Food Co-op and Central Co-op agreed to merge. The new co-op, also called Central Co-op, started the new year as a stronger regional solidarity cooperative now with two locations, serving and sustaining both Seattle and Tacoma, and with both worker and consumer ownership.

July 18, 2016: Central Co-op closed the 6th Ave location in Tacoma and actively pursues a new location to serve the Tacaoma-area membership.

May 26, 2017: Central Co-op signs a lease for a new Tacoma location at 4502 Pearl Street.

Early 2018: Central Co-op will open our new Tacoma location!

It's been a whirlwind, action-packed few decades, and we're not going anywhere.

With the support of our community, with dedication to our values, and with booming movements for local, sustainable, and ethical food and business, the Co-op continues to operate successful community-owned, member-driven grocery stores.

And we're not alone! The success of co-ops in the Northwest and across the country and the world proves that communities can make their own institutions to meet their needs. Here's to the bright cooperative future!


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