Ashland’s beloved Food Cooperative is celebrated for its outdoor courtyard, organic and natural foods and plain ol’ charm. Based on the packed parking lot and people socializing in front of the store, it’s clear the Co-op is an integral part of our community. Still, the jockeying for space on any given shopping day begs the question; has it outgrown its quaint and fully paid off building in the picturesque Railroad District?
As we told our readers in a headline last week “Haggen Packs Up to Leave Ashland”, we now know of the soon to be emptied space to potentially be filled by the Ashland Food Co-op. This has the Co-Op owners and community at odds. “Co-ops have a cool way of doing things differently” as the Co-op’s brochure describes, “…They’re people working together for better food, stronger communities and a healthier world.” Would that description lend itself to a building historically owned by a large chain store? Many customers say no, they love it as is, as a place to nest, converse with neighbors, and be away from the main drag that is Siskiyou Blvd & East Main.
Simply put, demand has grown but the parking and square footage of the Co-op hasn’t. A move to the Haggen’s location would provide space for all of the parking and inventory that this booming business could really use to maximize potential for its owners and loyal customer base. I reached out to the general manager of the Co-op Emile Amarotico, who told me there is “…nothing new to report”. As he told the daily tidings in late September “We’re interested in the (Safeway) real estate and the board and I are monitoring it to see if it’s available for lease or buy.” Beside the need for more space, the potential boost in business they’d likely see just from being on Siskiyou Blvd instead of tucked back in the Railroad District could be sizable. It just takes a trip to the large parking lot and easy access of Shop n’ Kart to imagine what a larger and more easily accessible Co-op could do in terms of growth.
The Co-op has to strongly consider what the community owners (myself included) think of this big change. As a checker told me while he rang up my avocados and kale, the cost of moving would likely reduce the dividends paid out annually to owners due to a diminished profit from higher yearly costs at a bigger building. In addition, will people like Bob Beggs continue to frequent the cooperative after a move that sacrifices “vibe” and “charm”? Bob explained his thoughts, “I would love the opportunity of casting a vote NOT to move the Co-op… The current location is so pretty and the vibe is always so inviting that I frequently stop by for coffee even when I need nothing else.” He continues… “I’ve seen so many locations go from charming to cement and asphalt and busy traffic. It would be such a shame to have that happen to the Co-op. Bigger is not necessarily better.”
In another statement to the daily tidings, manager Amarotico said “What’s the Co-op going to look like in 20 years if we don’t do something?”
Ultimately, the Haggen location is not on the market yet, so the Cooperative isn’t going anywhere all too soon, if at all.