I've been walking to and from work via the Main Street business district here in Richmond, Indiana, and as I take in with fresh eyes the businesses and product/service offerings located there, I can't help but argue a bit with the folks who would say it's a struggling area. We have several great local restaurants, a wide variety of local banks, a place devoted entirely to the art of knitting and crocheting, a cloud computing specialist, a local sporting goods store, massage therapists and acupuncturists, software consultants and website developers, an amazing toy store, bakeries and candy shops, several local jewelers, coffee shops...yeah, the list keeps going on. What a neat place to live and work!
One of the new additions that I'm most proud of right now is the Clear Creek Food Cooperative, located at 710 East Main Street, right below my company's new headquarters. The store is open to the public as of this past weekend, and the inventory is still growing as we stock local foods, organic produce, crafts and gifts made by local artisans, and healthy bulk foods, snacks, spices and more.
On one hand, it's just another place where you can buy food and related stuff here in Richmond. But behind the facade of a simple grocery is the promise of something that, I think, is much greater than that. As a cooperatively-owned business, it has the potential to help us return to the roots of what small business is about - a community of people meeting a common need or desire in our town, pooling their resources to do it in a way that everyone benefits. With a focus on locally sourced items, it helps work toward the promise of Richmond as a self-sustaining place. With a focus on organic and fair trade items, it helps work toward an economic model that values justice as much as it values monetary wealth. And so on - you can read about the co-operative identity to learn more.
Four years ago I joined the Coop's board of directors to see how I could help out. The Coop was a place that served the primary function of serving a lunch to students on the campus of Earlham College, and much of its other mission - to be a gathering place for a community of people interested in those Co-operative principles, healthy food, education and collaboration, etc. - had been left behind. Even with that clear role on a college campus - it was still struggling financially, and people in the wider Richmond community who wanted to take advantage of it had a hard time finding it, knowing when it was open, feeling at home shopping there, etc. And yet, conversations about making changes were hard - students didn't want to lose this campus gathering space, and the traditions and culture that had evolved up over the years had become sacred to some; the idea of taking a risk on a big change like moving was at times unthinkable.
You may remember about a year ago when I made some snarky remarks about an article in the Earlham Word about the future of the Coop and whether or not it would move off campus. That was one step in a long process of considering our options for revitalizing the organization, one that goes well beyond my time with the board - so many people have put so much time and energy and passion into making the Coop a better place. We did decide that the best place for the Coop was out in the community and that it was time to make that leap, and this new beginning in a new space represents not only a success of the current board, staff, membership and volunteer base, but a gradual progression of a decades-long conversations. And even though the future is uncertain and there are still plenty of things to figure out, it's a milestone to celebrate!
Shopping at the Coop will not be like shopping at Meijer, Kroger or Walmart, and you'll still have to go to those other kinds of places to get everything you need. It won't be open 24 hours and you cannot get your oil changed or your photos processed while you browse. But if you find value in the values of small Main Street businesses, one that considers the health of its customers and the local community in its decision-making processes, you'll find that you belong at the Clear Creek Food Cooperative.
I hope to see you there!