Our Shared Roots Run Deep
Co-opportunity Market began as a food-buying club of four in West Los Angeles in 1974. Since then, our commitment to the community, cooperative values, and healthy living hasn’t changed. For over four decades years, the Co-op has led the way in connecting people to local growers and producers with health and sustainability in mind. Together, we are strengthening community through a commitment to a strong, local food system, clean ingredients and responsible sourcing.
Co-opportunity Market began as the Westside Buyers Club in the Mississippi Avenue garage of George Tucker in West Los Angeles. George, a UCLA graduate with a scientific background, was one of four founders, along with Mike Timko, a committed anarchist and Peace and Freedom Party member, David J. Thompson, a community organizer, public speaker, and writer with ties to the English cooperative movement, and Bill Lyfield, a long-time Venice activist and musician who became Eytan Ben Sheviya. Passionate and committed to natural foods, all four had been involved in the Consumers Cooperative Society of Santa Monica (CCSSM), and they decided to invest and help in any way they could to open a real store. George stepped up and said he was prepared to run the Co-op alongside his herb business, form a limited partnership, rent a store, and loan the Co-op $5,000. By late spring they were able to find a vacant storefront on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles.
Shortly before opening the store on August 24, 1974, the founding cooperators were having a group meeting in a borrowed storefront with the front door open because of the intense summer heat. As they earnestly discussed what to name their co-op, a young hippie came in and sat in the back of the room. He quietly listened to the discussion and after a while voiced, “I’ve been listening to you all talk about this store as a great opportunity, and how it’s a co-op — why not call it Co-opportunity?” All agreed but by the time they turned to thank the young stranger, he was gone.
Co-opportunity grew quickly from 20 owners in August 1974 to 400 owners by September 1975. A monthly sales volume of $7,000 was straining the store’s capacity. They now had to find a larger location.
After a nine-month search, they found a location on 16th and Broadway in Santa Monica. It was in a quiet, commercial-industrial area, on a lot packed with Hertz rental trucks and used cars. On July 4, 1976, members used their cars, vans and trucks to move all of the inventory and fixtures down Santa Monica Blvd. to the new store at 1530 Broadway. In anticipation of this growth, the Co-op incorporated in January 1976, and changed its status from a limited partnership to a cooperative corporation in July. Co-opportunity elected its first Board of Directors in September 1976.
Still increasing in membership and sales growth, Co-opportunity seizes an opportunity to lease an additional 1,500 square footage of space on the current property. The Board and its workers saw the potential in the space and proceeded to build a meeting room. Shortly after, a produce wholesale was added that created additional needs for capital and inventory. But by July, the Co-op began to experience a downturn in profits. Stress and tension over control escalated operational and organizational problems that would send the young cooperative through its lowest years. Fighting to overcome bankruptcy and operating for a while without a General Manager, some thought the Co-op would have to close its doors. With help from a team of UCLA graduate students, staff created a management system that provided closer control and supervision of the operation, while the Board and staff agreed upon their areas of influence as membership expanded.
The Co-op weathered a stormy period in the 1980s to emerge as a healthy organization in the 1990s. The Board took the brave step of hiring Will Simon as General Manager and giving him real power as a manager. He had the huge task of plugging a hundred holes into a sinking organization before it could move forward. Will had owned and managed several natural food stores in the 1960s and 1970s. Once Will began applying his business knowledge to the organization and its operations, making necessary changes and flipping the whole store inside and out, sales and financial performance immediately improved. But they were outgrowing the space.
A new store was built especially for Co-opportunity. The move doubled the Co-op’s retail space and sales increased immediately.
When Will retired in 2006, the Co-op had cash in the bank and had become a financially solid, debt-free business, poised to thrive and grow even more.
Co-opportunity’s Board of Directors hired Mike Bowen as General Manager. A natural foods industry veteran, Mike’s enthusiasm for team building, merchandising and creative ideas has led to several new offerings.
Co-opportunity received the Green Business Certification from the Santa Monica Green Business Certification Program.
Co-opportunity’s first annual LA Local event is held in Culver City in June, hosting over 30 local vendors and producers.
Co-opportunity Market celebrates its 45th year in business.
Co-opportunity announces a new line of cold-pressed organic juices, and house made organic soups.
Co-opportunity received the Sustainable Business Certification from Culver City.
Co-opportunity’s Board of Directors hired Cindy Chikahisa as CEO. Cindy brings over 35 years of retail grocery industry experience including executive management positions at Sprouts and Wild Oats. In addition to her extensive professional experience, Cindy earned a Master of Science, Food Industry Leadership Program, at the University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business; is a three-time winner of Progressive Grocers’ “Top Women in Grocery Award”, the most prestigious honor for female leaders in the grocery industry; and is passionate about community service.
For more Co-Opportunity history, purchase a copy of the book, Co-Opportunity: The Rise of a Community Owned Market, written by founding owner, David J. Thompson. Available on Amazon.com.