Another Wisconsin summer has melted away and left us with crisp fall days full of urgency to take in every moment before the snow. Fall always makes me a little nostalgic for the year that has passed. I think it’s the collection of ending harvests and changing colors. The look back this year has made me realize that, if you can believe it, it has been almost a full year since our Co-op opened the doors of its newest adventure—Willy West in Middleton. And, it’s been about eight years since the Co-op decided it was time to start thinking about expanding out and embracing a little more of our southern Wisconsin niche. In true Wisconsin Fall fashion, this new store has brought a lot of opportunity for change to the Co-op, but I think the thing that has changed the most is the number of people we reach each day by being able to bring the Co-op’s mission and practices to so many more people. Middleton and its surrounding areas have shown great interest in our Co-op and have accepted us, graciously, with open arms. Some faces are brand new to the Co-op, eager to learn and take in all we have to offer; others are those who used to be Owners of the Co-op but could no longer make it all the way over to the eastside of Madison for whatever reason. Either way, as a whole, the Co-op is becoming a force of education and community support for more and more people everyday.
In the first two weeks that Willy West was open we signed up 1,396 new Owners. That is more new Owners than either store has signed up per month since! By the end of January 2011 Willy West had signed up just over 3,000 new Owners since its opening date of November 15th, 2011. In that time period the Co-op as a whole (meaning both stores) signed up almost 3,800 new Owners. These numbers are mind-blowing in themselves, but just to really show you how much the Co-op has grown this year, I’ll give you one more: in the Co-op Fiscal Year 2011 (July 2010 to July 2011) the Co-op signed up 9,617 new Owners. Over half of these new Owners were signed up at Willy West after it opened. Along with the thousands of new Owners we have reached this year, we have brought back over 300 Owners who had let their Ownerships lapse over the years. I know from speaking to some of those Owners who were reopening their memberships at Willy West that many were prompted to come back because the Co-op was now more accessible to those who live on the west side of Madison and its surrounding areas. After seeing all of these numbers while researching this article, I really started to wonder how many Owners the co-op has in total. Brendon Smith, our Director of Communications, told me Willy Street Co-op has somewhere around 28,000 active Owners. While this number changes everyday, usually for the positive, it means that we have at least 28,000 people that are investing equity into our Co-op and shopping at least once a year at either store.
It is pretty obvious these days that the natural and sustainable food movement in the U.S. is getting bigger and the above numbers show that the Co-op is growing right along with it. This is a movement that the Co-op has believed in with all its heart from the very beginning back in 1974, and it has always been a mission of the Co-op to make our stores accessible to everyone and to educate people about sustainability, buying local, and natural foods and products. This past year we have opened up a dialogue with thousands of people and hopefully that number will just get larger as the time passes. I hope I speak for everyone working at Willy West when I say how exciting this past year has been and how amazing it feels to be able to introduce people to our Co-op and everything we do. I worked at Willy East for a few years before coming over to Willy West and the love people have for the Co-op always amazes me and each day I see a little bit more of that love here in Middleton. I think that in this situation (a staple eastside Madison business making a real mark on the westside Madison/Middleton culture), Anthony Kiedis of the Red Hot Chili Peppers said it best: “East side love is living on the west side,” and the Co-op could not be happier about it.