On July 18, 2016, the Central Co-op 6th Avenue site in Tacoma was closed for business. This sad and unexpected turn of events occured after months of lease negotiations failed to produce a mutually agreeable set of terms between the landlord and the Cooperative. The search for a new location in the Tacoma area is underway, and it is the top priority of the Co-op to re-open in a suitable location as soon as possible.
Read the original letter about the store closure
Central Co-op's Board of Trustees has put together some questions about what features and services are most important to our members and community. Please take a moment to give your feedback!
Notes from the board & more
January 16, 2017: A note from Dean DeCrease, Board Chair
Dear Members of Central Co-op,
It has been some time since our last update about the search for our new Tacoma location and we know you are eager for news. Our search in Tacoma is the top priority for Co-op leadership and we are working hard to find a location that will meet the needs of our membership for many years to come.
Through answers to our survey questions, notes and phone calls, direct contact and community conversations, we have heard from many of our members about what is important in our next location. We wanted to share our key takeaways so you can know our direction. If you have yet to participate in our survey, please click here to see the questions (now compiled in one document) and share your perspective with us.
We have heard, first and foremost, that it is important that the Co-op re-open a location in Tacoma as quickly as possible. In addition to working quickly, we have heard that the features and services that are most desired at our new location include a fresh deli, a meat and seafood counter, a bakery, a hot bar and salad bar, and classroom space. In terms of prioritizing sustainable features at the new store, solar panels, an on-site composter and using recycled materials in the new location are the top three choices. We have also heard that our new store should be easily accessible by car, bicycle, foot, and public transportation.
With the help of real estate professionals, we have been looking at potential sites over the last several months and have found several promising options which our Board, operations team and consultants are evaluating on the basis of member feedback, accessibility, lease terms, build-out or renovation prospects, and long-term potential. We are working quickly and carefully to find the right, long-term site for our Co-op and it may take several more months before we find the right opportunity. Following that, there will be negotiations and securing financing. Then we will be able to begin any building or renovation that is required.
Thank you for your patience as we work towards our new home in Tacoma. We share your eagerness to get something up and running as quickly as is feasible and we look forward to the day that we can make an announcement about our location and be able to give a good idea of a timeframe for reopening.
If you have not yet answered our survey questions, please do take a moment to do so.
Central Co-op Board Chair
October 1, 2016: A note from Dan Arnett, CEO (from our Central Register Fall 2016)
As noted in prior communications, our cooperative recently faced a difficult challenge when lease negotiations failed to produce mutually agreeable terms for our 6th Avenue location and our Board and management team made the painful decision to shut down operation at that site. We are actively working to secure a new store site in Tacoma. This is a very high priority for our top leadership team. Several potential sites are being reviewed. It is important to find a site that is accessible to the membership and that has the characteristics we know are associated with successful cooperative stores. Any new store will be an investment and the assets held by our members must be prudently deployed. That said, we all agree that a new site is an urgent matter and moving as quickly as we can while maintaining appropriate diligence is paramount. While short term pressure and sentiments can be powerful persuaders, we must tend to the long term financial and associational health of the cooperative. A new, improved site and location in Tacoma will serve members and contribute to the strength and vitality of the whole organization.
Tacoma Members of Central Co-op,
We are grateful for the participation of the members who attended the Community Conversation at the STAR Center in Tacoma. The passion in the room was so encouraging – we will need it as we come together to find and fund a new store as quickly as possible.
We are still processing the extensive feedback we received, but a few themes are resonating:
1. Communication: We clearly did not sufficiently inform and involve the Tacoma membership of the developments surrounding the closure of the 6th Avenue store. I take personal responsibility for my failure in this regard and I will make sure this problem is overcome, with your help.
2. Trust: We need to build trust as two cooperative cultures that have come together in a challenging time to do something great. We are now a 15,000 member co-op working in two Puget Sound communities. This will require us to learn new ways of organizing, communicating and working together despite the 35 mile range of our activities. Trust is also proactive – we need to support each other and resist the efforts of those who would divide us.
3. Involvement: We have work to do. We need to build mechanisms for members to contribute meaningfully to the forward progress of this co-op in Tacoma. To that end, we will be inviting interested members to a discussion that will inform how we structure the work of the Tacoma linkage committee and how members can support the growth of the co-op. This session will be held in Tacoma on August 30th.
Thanks again for the amazing work you have done to build this co-op in Tacoma and thanks for your dedication to building it even better in the future.
Board Chair, Central Co-op
Dear Co-op Members,
Last week, Central Co-op on 6th Avenue was forced to close after every co-op manager’s worst nightmare: non-negotiable lease terms (beyond the co-op’s best interests to agree to) arriving at the 11th hour. The closure of our 6th Avenue site is very difficult for us – our members, our employees, our co-op. We are temporarily without a store to call our own in Tacoma, our great local vendors have a gap in working with a strong partner, and all of the staff at the 6th Ave location (including myself) have been laid off.
Speaking as the 6th Avenue Store Manager, I know that without the merger with Central Co-op earlier this year, the Tacoma Food Co-op would have been in the same position, unable to meet the landlord’s terms and having to close. The difference is that the Tacoma Food Co-op would not have had the reserves and staffing to reopen at all.
The co-op on 6th Ave was a magical place that was built by the community between 2006 and now. We had great produce, delicious local goodies, strong community bonds between members and staff, an awesome team, and the authentic “co-op smell” you’ll encounter in any great co-op around the world. The merger with Central brought new opportunities to have the co-op that the community envisioned and worked toward since the beginning: the full product selection and all the amenities we need to be the hub for Tacoma’s local, natural foods, and co-op movements that we didn’t have the resources to achieve as Tacoma Food Co-op. Despite the closure of our 6th Ave site, the benefits of the merger remain intact.
Now that we are a combined co-op we are stronger and have greater capacity, which means the co-op will be finding the best site for the Tacoma community. How can I be so sure?
- Central Co-op started the search months ago, commissioning two market studies and hiring two local real estate professionals to identify the best site. Given what we know about the market, and the non-negotiable lease-terms, it is clear that this site was not in the cooperative’s interest.
- Central Co-op refunded over $200,000 in member loans, a demonstrated investment in the Tacoma community.
- Tacoma members sit on the Central Co-op Board, which makes all major decisions of the co-op.
- Central Co-op has begun the dialogue with members and staff in the Tacoma area about what we want in a new store.
Unfortunately, the co-op wasn’t able to find a new site prior to having to close operations on 6th Ave. Finding the right space and setting-up take time, and this gap between the 6th Ave store and new store is the most painful part for all of us. However, I am certain that the location we choose will be among the finest co-op stores the region has ever seen.
Today is a hard day, but now the co-op will be free to be what the Tacoma community wants and deserves. I hope the community will join me in engaging with Central Co-op on what you want to see in our next store here. We all share the same dream: a co-op that is not just a grocery store, but a hub for the local and natural foods movement, inspiring local food and cooperative innovation throughout the city.
Former Store Manager, Central Co-op
Former General Manager, Tacoma Food Co-op
Central Co-op Trustee
July 26, 2016
Dear Co-op Members,
I have been an active member of the Tacoma Food Coop from almost the very beginning. I have served on the Board of the Tacoma Food Coop from the summer of 2010 (Pre-opening) through December of 2015 when the merger with Central coop was complete and had the distinct honor to be Board President during those last two years. This service has provided me with a unique perspective on what it takes to create and grow a successful Co-op.
We were all shocked and troubled by the sudden closure of the 6th Ave location last week. I unfortunately was not completely surprised by it. The hard truth about our beloved storefront is that it was insufficient to the task of creating the type of Co-op we all wanted. One that was successful, had real impact in the community, and treated its staff, suppliers, and owners with dignity and respect.
How long have we known that this was the case? Longer than most of the membership knows. Our struggles with our size and the physical limitations of the 6th Avenue location were apparent to those of us even before the coop opened its doors. Most of the successful coops in the region had larger footprints than what we were dealing with. There were some examples of small stores that were doing ok financially but not really any examples of small footprint stores doing great. We felt at the time that we could make that footprint work, but we knew it was small and the support spaces were very constrained.
So why did we open up at that location knowing that it might be an uphill struggle to truly become successful? Several reasons. First it’s what the membership wanted. Time and time again we asked, and time and time again we were told that our membership wanted a brick and mortar storefront, a place to call home. Second we were on the clock. From the time a group begins a Coop to the time that effort succeeds or fizzles out is about five years. Amber Englund had begun the earliest efforts in 2006 and our efforts to open the storefront were occurring in 2011. And finally because there was an opportunity as presented to us by John Loesch to convert his conventional space into a coop thereby reducing our startup costs by more than half. With that opportunity on the table and the very real momentum that we felt within our membership we took a chance on Tacoma, we took a chance on the Coop.
But weren’t we successful during the four and a half years that we operated as Tacoma Food Coop? Unfortunately we weren’t. And this was due to several factors. First we were not able to raise as much capital as we wanted to when we opened and that limited the improvements we could afford to make in the store. Second our projections for growth were overly optimistic. We had hoped to achieve double digit growth every year for the first few years because that was the kind of growth that coops had always achieved in the past. But by chance we opened up the Coop at a time when the industry was changing. Coops were no longer seeing that level of growth as our conventional competitors began to compete directly with us. And last we made some mistakes and poor decisions in some of the investments we made. We overbought, we underbought, we bought the wrong product, we made all sorts of mistakes that could reasonably be expected of a startup to make. And as a result we saw losses. Some small, some large, but consistently we lost money.
Ever the optimist I kept believing that there was going to be some combination of staff, resources and outside influences which would eventually propel us past the limitations we faced. Assuming of course that we survived long enough for that to happen. And it did happen. We were offered an opportunity to merge our coop community with the Central Coop’s community in Seattle. It was on balance a god send. It allowed us to immediately become the Coop we wanted to be. Better wages, lower prices, and wider impact.
Which brings us back to the current impasse. How come the lease negotiations failed? They failed because the two sides could not come to mutually agreeable terms. Now that may seem a trite response, but it makes it no less true. And it in essence comes down to a differing opinion, a differing vision on what it takes to run a business. John’s business model and his perspective on what is important to succeed has always been at odds with our own vision and business perspective. John ran a successful conventional corner grocery for years before the first time he tried to retire. At some point he decided he would be more successful if he split his property into two business. Since that time no business has successfully operated on that property. Not his own grocery, not the restaurant, not the bar, and not the Coop. We began our renegotiations with John in August of last year signaling our intention to renew the lease and expressing an interest in acquiring the space that was occupied by the bar. This was before merger talks and though we weren’t sure at that time we could afford to take over the rear of the store we wanted to pursue that option.
Then the merger talks and the successful effort to complete the merger. Almost immediately we began to see benefits of that decision. Better wages and lower prices and the very real hope of taking the Coop to the next level. And it was at this time that my service to the coop ended. I do not have any additional knowledge about what was and was not in the terms which were rejected by the Coop Board this month. But I have a true working knowledge of the factors that the Central Board would be considering as they made their decisions. How much investment would it take to reconnect the front half of the store with the rear? How much would that investment grow the sales floor of the coop? Would that investment allow for a Deli, a hot bar, a prep kitchen or any other number of options? What level of sales growth would that investment stimulate and would that growth be sufficient to provide a return on that investment? These and many more considerations would have gone into the decision, but the one consideration that would have been more important than any other would have been. Is this deal in the best interest of the community we are trying to serve? And not just the short term interests, but long term does this deal make sense. If it didn’t then the board had a responsibility to make the tough call. It may not make sense to say that the closing of a storefront, the laying off of our simply awesome staff of our Tacoma store is in the best interests of the Tacoma community, but the truth is it most certainly was. I know the all the players involved. I know the integrity of the Board of Trustees, I know about their commitment to this community, and I know about their abilities to govern effectively. These are among the most dedicated and caring individuals that I have ever met. They are also among the most capable. They are a nationally recognized force for good in the cooperative movement and they would not have, could not have made the decision that they did if it was not absolutely without reservation the right decisions for the coop. And they made that decision knowing that they would face a community that would be devastated by the loss. They made it anyway.
And they are not done. The Coop in Tacoma is a growing concern. We will be back, bigger, better, and stronger than ever. I would ask all the members in the Tacoma community to join me in supporting our Board over the next few months. We are stronger together, believe it.
Former TFC board member 2010-2015 and Board President 2013-2015
Dear South Sound Membership,
As your member-based, volunteer board we take our decision-making responsibility very seriously. In the interest of making the most of those decisions, we consider member feedback a crucial part of our governing process.
Today we are launching a series of survey questions to help get input for our new store that we hope you will all participate in answering! A link to our first survey question is below - and more will follow in the coming days. Participating in processes like this is an important part of being a member of a co-op. We invite you to share with your friends and neighbors too!
To participate, please click the survey link below!
Our membership is filled with creative thinkers with lots of opinions and we want to hear from you! Thank you for playing an important role in the progress toward our new store.
Central Co-op Board of Trustees
Question #2: Sustainability
Question #3: Values and Selection
Question #4: Where do you shop?
Question #5: Priorities when shopping
Question #6: Favorite Departments
Question #7: Accessibility
I know many of you are shocked and dismayed at the sudden closing of the 6th Avenue Co-op. So am I! Abruptly, last week, lease negotiations with the landlord ended when we were presented with an ultimatum and we could not, as your Trustees, agree to lease terms that would be detrimental to our success in the long run. It was a terribly difficult decision to make. We all love our co-op. It’s a part of who we are.
We’ve already begun the search process for a new location in the Tacoma area. As a Tacoma resident and a co-op member-owner, I am excited about the opportunities that a new store will bring to our area.
The words “Tacoma area” mean that we are open to whatever location meets our needs. Please don’t be put off by them. Tacoma comprises many neighborhoods, and while many former TFC members live in the 6th Ave. neighborhood, many others live in other neighborhoods. I live on McKinley Hill. I used to make the 6-mile drive to the co-op once a week. My alternative is Fred Meyer, two miles away, but, well, you know: not the co-op! I, for one will be shopping at the co-op again the day it opens, whatever neighborhood it’s in.
A co-op is as strong as the people who participate in it. Your input is critical to the success of the future Tacoma store. In the long run what do we all want? A co-op first and foremost. A bigger co-op? Classes? A deli? A meat department? Fresh fish? More interaction with our community? What facilities will we need to do all that? Where? One location or more? We’ll be asking for your ideas and creativity as we search for a new location. Stay tuned.
Please understand that we, your trustees, are doing our utmost to make the best decisions for our Co-op’s membership: not hurried or costly decisions, the right decisions.
Central Co-op Trustee
Dear South-Sound Owners and Community,
Effective July 18, 2016, the Central Co-op 6th Avenue site in Tacoma is closed for business and a search for a new location in the Tacoma area has been initiated. Our Board of Trustees made this decision after months of lease negotiations failed to produce a mutually agreeable set of terms between the landlord and the Cooperative. The closure of the 6th Avenue location is a sad and unexpected turn of events. After years of operating at this location, we were confident that all parties could come to an agreement that would benefit our business, our membership, and the property owner. We continued negotiations until we realized that a solution was beyond our reach and made the decision to close in order to give ourselves time to exit in a responsible manner. Our team is actively evaluating other sites in the Tacoma area with plans to re-open.
Our union contract with UFCW Local 367 includes language for closure and layoffs that will guide our process with the staff of the 6th Avenue location.
We remain committed to our South-Sound membership. Our Co-op’s staff and trustees are focused on finding a new location for our Tacoma operations. Throughout this process we will continue to serve our South-Sound community with events, community partnerships, and regular Co-op news updates.
Please scroll down for updates. We will also remain active on the Facebook page. If you have questions, please email email@example.com.
Thank you for supporting Central Co-op,
Central Co-op Board Chair
Central Co-op President and CEO
December 28, 2015: Central Co-op and Tacoma Food Co-op have merged!
After historic elections at both co-ops, with record numbers of votes and landslide decisions in favor of the changes, our owners and our boards have agreed to merge.
Seattle Election Results: 1439 to 102 in favor of merging (record 12.7% turnout)
Tacoma Election Results: 314 to 10 in favor of merging (17.8% turnout)
These decisions mean we are beginning 2016 as one solidarity cooperative with two locations, serving and sustaining both Seattle and Tacoma.
Central Co-op 16th & Madison, Seattle
1600 E Madison St, Seattle
6am to Midnight
Central Co-op, Tacoma
Closed while we search for a new location site
About Our Solidarity Model
Voters at both co-ops also approved--by a landslide!--a new solidarity structure for Central Co-op, based on sharing ownership, surplus distribution, representation, and investment between consumer-owners and worker-owners.
What to Expect
As a shopper, you probably won’t notice things being any different at our 16th & Madison store as a result of these changes, but our Co-op will be stronger than ever.
Owners will also soon be able to use their owner numbers at both stores.
As a member of Tacoma Food Co-op, you'll soon see some exciting changes:
- New membership cards
- Lower prices throughout the 6th Ave, Tacoma store (temporarily closed while we search for a new location)
- New benefits package, including member savings events and weekly member coupons
- Establishment of the Local Linkage committee
Stay tuned to our information outlets for updates as we get the systems in place!