The end of an era came on Commercial Drive this weekend, as Vancouver’s last grocery cooperative prepared to shut its doors for good. After nearly 50 years, the East End Food Co-op will cease operations on Sunday.
On Saturday, the store was packed with customers like Debora Gordon, filling their pantry with Co-op goods one last time.
Gordon, who lives three blocks away, said she’s been shopping there since 1992 and raised her kids on food from the co-op.
“I really like the sense that we’re supporting community, that we’re supporting a co-op. Sometimes it’s slightly more expensive, but we know it’s coming back to the community, and that’s very important to me,” she said.
Like other cooperatives, the East End Food Co-op is owned by its members who elect a board and decide how any profits are spent.
Jacob Larmour, a member of the board, said the business started as a buyers club before opening its first storefront on Victoria Drive in the mid 1970s. In the early 1980s it moved to its current home at Commercial Drive near Napier Street.
“We wanted to have some sort of celebration to mark this event, we wanted to go out with a bang, to have some fun. To me this place has always been about community,” Larmour said.
“I know the cashiers, I know the other people that work here. This is almost like my living room or my pantry. I feel a sense of ownership here, whereas in a Safeway or something like that I don’t have that same feeling of being a participant, I feel more like a consumer.”
Larmour said the store’s closure was a result of a decade-long trend in declining sales, as the co-op has faced increased competition from other grocers in the area. In recent years, organic grocery chain Choices Markets, which is owned by Buy Low Foods, opened directly across the street.
He said, the shop was running a deficit recently of up to $10,000 per month.
A brief bump in sales at the outset of the pandemic helped them start to break even again, he said, but that didn’t last.
“This has been part of the drive for the past 40, almost 50 years, so the the legacy of the Drive as a kind of left-wing, more radical aspect of Vancouver life, (the co-op) is one of the legacies of that,” he said.
“It’s also a surrender to gentrification, which is happening. It really symbolizes the change of what’s happening here on the Drive.”
In some ways, Larmour said the co-op has become a victim of its own success. When it opened, it was one of the few grocers in the city specializing in organic and natural products.
Now those items are common on the shelves of many grocers in the area, as well as the larger chain supermarkets.
With the store closing, Gordon said she’ll take her business to other locally-owned grocers in the neighbourhood, but she told Global News it won’t be the same.
“We know everybody who works here. We have chats about their kids, or the recipe they’ve made. They know my kids,” she said.
“It’s community. It’s so sad.”
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