A Brief and Unofficial History of the Good Food Co-Op (GFC)

by Kevin Weidenbaum


From The Oberlin Co-operator, Volume 1, Issue 1, October 1, 1983:

"The GFC was originally conceived as a winter term project by two women in January 1971. They received a small grant from the college for supplies and stock and opened their store above the Co-op Bookstore. After January it moved to the Pyle Inn (next to Dascomb, but demolished in 1975) and then eventually to Harkness (on West College, near Professor), which ran it and where it has been ever since."

By 1975, the GFC was operating out of a large closet (or very small room) in the lower level of Harkness. Students living in Harkness were operating it as part of their co-op duties. Over the summers, some consumer from the town was chosen to run it. It was open just a couple of times a week, was very limited in its offerings, and required non-OSCA members to pay a nominal (25 cents) annual fee to become members of OSCA, the Oberlin Student Co-operative Association.

Around 1977, the students managing the GFC, worked to expand the store into its current space which gave it its own outside entrance and more than doubled the available space. They sought and received town approval (planning or zoning commission?) for this expansion. (I presume that the college paid for the renovations required, although OSCA may have done so.)

During the summer of 1978, a couple of students, who were staying in town over the summer and running the GFC, suggested that it be turned into a consumers cooperative. What actually happened was that during the 1978-79 academic year, the GFC applied for status as a student organization, and its charter and operating guidelines were approved. With the assistance of members of Harkness, this change-over was achieved. About this time OSCA assisted the GFC in purchasing its large display refrigerator by buying it for the store and allowing the GFC to pay it back over the course of a year with no interest on the debt.

In the fall of 1983, the membership of the GFC, which has always included non-students, discussed a possible relocation to a space in a building at 82 South Main St. This building was a former hardware store, but had been recently purchased by the Oberlin Consumers Co-operative, which was looking for co-op enterprises for the building so as to make a little co-op center. (This building now houses the Mandarin restaurant.) The GFC membership approved this relocation in principle, but it never took place because neither the GFC nor the OCC had enough capital to establish such a store and it also appeared that its operation would require annual subsidies from the OCC.

During the academic year 1986-87, some officers of OSCA had the desire to move the GFC to the basement of Keep Coop and either move their retail operation (SAX Route 58) from there to the Harkness space or to create some other small operation instead. An ice cream parlor was mentioned. The members of the GFC strongly resisted this. To resolve the impasse, OSCA brought in some mediators from Madison, WI, and over a weekend with many meetings (and some tears), an agreement was reached. This agreement resulted in the GFC continuing to occupy its current space in Harkness, but also starting to hire work-study students to be day managers and expanding its product line into non-food, personal care items. The latter required the GFC to purchase its first cash register so that state sales tax could be charged for these non-food items.

Many changes have occurred in the GFC over the years. A digital scale was purchased in the early 80's, which allowed for the subtraction of the weight of an empty container when calculating the price of a bulk item. The GFC just recently acquired its third replacement. It is also now using its second cash register. But the original refrigerator is in place thanks to timely repairs. In the 80's when Harkness acquired new, tighter-sealing windows, it caused problems with the air on the lower level. The solution was to build a huge air exchanger hanging from the ceiling in the GFC so that fresh air could be pulled in, warmed by steam lines from the boiler room in Harkness, and blown down a plenum in the lower level. This obviously did not add to the attractiveness of the GFC.

This past year began with a flood the night before Orientation when the drain at the back door of Harkness got clogged and a strong rain caused water to pour into the lower level of Harkness including the GFC.

New this year has been the acquisition of a dozen gravity-feed bins, an expansion in the offerings of snack foods, and, effective on January 1, a suspension of processing of special orders.

The Co-op's best sales year was 1998, when it reached nearly $26,000 in gross sales. During the academic year, the store is open six times a week (about 2 hours/opening) and staffed largely by students. During the summers it is open just two days a week and staffed by townspeople.

March 22, 2000