It’s the International Year of the Co-op, but might it also be Wisconsin’s Year of the Co-op, too?

The dairy state boasts an impressive lineup of grocery co-ops, among which we are proud to be included. According to the UW Center for Cooperatives, there are 44 co-ops categorized (by type and sector) as “consumer and grocery” in the Wisconsin Co-op Directory. From the smallest one (in Viola, with currently 12 members) to large three-store models (such as Outpost in Milwaukee & Wauwatosa), these food co-ops share a range of features, most important among them a commitment to serve their member-owners.

Beyond compiling a small list to tuck away for traveling around the state, we did a little bit of sleuthing to uncover a few curiosities about some of these co-ops. Is “political neutrality” something that all have in common, in overt or unspoken policies? Which co-ops honor reciprocity for Willy Street Co-op Owners? What do other co-ops provide to accommodate low-income folks in the various communities they are situated within? Have any co-ops undergone recent transitions or do they have any upcoming changes or expansions?

We discovered that every cooperative (with one exception) has some sort of policy regarding political neutrality. Some of them did not allow staff members to wear political buttons or T-shirts, or discouraged employees from speaking about religion or politics in the store. Other co-ops spoke about needing to stay neutral in regards to electoral politics and candidates, but take advocacy around food-related issues very seriously. Many work to inform their member-owners about developments in organic labeling or genetically-modified foods, and encourage folks to take action. Without a doubt, though, many have spoken to the difficulties in maintaining these policies over this last year here in Wisconsin. “No politicking in the store” has become a refrain for some, in order to create an environment where multiple ideologies are welcome.

What follows is a short description of many grocery co-ops throughout the state.

Basics Cooperative (Janesville)
1711 Lodge Drive
608-754-3925
www.basicshealth.com
Hours: Monday–Saturday 8:00am–8:00pm, Sunday 10:00am–6:00pm
Membership: 2,958
Basics Co-op donates to local organizations and provides discount days, including one for seniors and another for active military. Their Community Room is available for free use by anyone in the community, and they do not endorse the activities in the room. Basics Co-op does recognize reciprocity with Willy Street Co-op Owners, which is a 5% discount on all purchases.
Chequamegon Food Co-op (Ashland)
215 Chapple Avenue
715-682-8251
www.chequamegonfoodcoop.com
Hours: Monday–Friday 9:00am–8:00pm, Saturday 9:00am–7:00pm, Sunday 10:00am–5:00pm
Membership: about 1,700
Chequamegon Food Co-op does not surcharge folks who shop there. They recently purchased a large building in town, and are planning an expansion in the next couple of years.
Island City Food Co-op (Cumberland)
1490 2nd Avenue
715-822-8233
islandcityfoodcoop.com
Hours: Monday–Friday 8:00am–5:30pm and Saturday 8:00am–3:00pm
Membership: 385
At Island City Co-op, Willy Street Co-op Owners can receive a 5% discount on most items. They also offer discounts for seniors on certain days of the month. As they look ahead into the future, folks at Island City Co-op are looking at different options for membership fees. Currently they have an annual $20 fee that all member-owners pay. They are researching options to offer a one-time payment option as well.
Kickapoo Exchange (Gays Mills)
209 Main Street
608-735-4544
www.facebook.com/pages/KEX-Kickapoo-Exchange-Natural-Foods-Co-op/311349842235
Hours: Monday–Friday, 11:00am–6:00pm; Saturday 9:00am–6:00pm
Membership: They’re unsure.
Kickapoo Exchange offers reciprocity with Willy Street Co-op Owners, as they often have co-op owners from Madison and Viroqua shopping there. The discount is 2% on everything in the store. They also offer an income-based sliding scale fee for memberships. In the upcoming year, Kickapoo Exchange is working on landscaping projects and exterior improvements.
Menomonie Market Food Co-op (Menomonie)
521 2nd St. E
715-235-6533
www.mmfc.coop/
Hours: Weekdays: 7:00am–8:00pm Weekends: 8:00am–7:00pm
Membership: 1,500 active
Menomonie Co-op has been looking at expansion plans for the last few years, and will continue to explore this possibility in the coming year.
Natural Alternative (Luck)
241 South Main Street
715-472-8084
Hours: Monday–Friday 9:00am–6:00pm; Saturday 9:00am–4:00pm
Membership: about 400
Natural Alternative Co-op purchased their building a few years ago, and are in the process of doing gradual renovations. The building itself is large, so there is the potential for future expansion.
Outpost Natural Foods (Milwaukee & Wauwatosa)
100 E. Capitol Drive 414-961-2597
7000 W. State Street 414-778-2012
2826 S Kinnikinnic 414-755-3202
www.outpost.coop/
Hours: Daily 7:00am–9:00pm
Membership: 16,000
Outpost Co-op is a bit different than many others in the state. It currently has three stores in the Milwaukee metropolitan area, and has recently been building and expanding its wholesale business. Products made at Outpost’s off-site kitchen are sold in six different locations, particularly in hospital cafeterias. There is no surcharge at any of the Outpost stores, and Willy Street Co-op Owners receive the owner prices for the on-sale specials. Outpost also offers subsidized ownerships for low-income folks, via a partnership with a local non-profit. Uniquely, the staff at Outpost has had a union since 1979.
People’s Food Co-op (LaCrosse and Rochester, MN)
315 5th Avenue South, LaCrosse
608-784-5798
1001 6th Street NW, Rochester
507-289-9061
www.peoplesfoodcoop.com
www.rochestergoodfood.coop
Hours: 7:00am–10:00pm, seven days a week (LaCrosse)
Monday–Saturday 8:00am–9:00pm, Sunday 10:00am–6:00pm (Rochester)
Membership: 6,300
In October, 76% of the membership at Rochester Good Food Co-op voted to approve the merger with the People’s Food Co-op in Lacrosse. As of January 2012, this plan has moved forward, and both stores are undergoing the transition into a two-store, two-state People’s Food Co-op expansion. This co-op also offers discounted student memberships, installment payment options for members, as well as low-income/special circumstances discounted memberships.
Pine River Market & Cafe (Richland Center)
196 West Court Street
608-647-7299
www.pinerivercoop.com
Hours: Monday–Friday 10:00am– 6:00pm; Saturday 10:00am–5:00pm
Membership: 250
Pine River is a relatively new co-op, and does not have any plans for expansion at this time. Also, they do not have a surcharge for shoppers.
Regent Street Market (Madison)
2136 Regent Street
608-233-4329
www.regentmarketcoop.org
Hours: Daily 8:00am–9:00pm
Membership: 2,000
Regent Street Market does give a discount to Willy Street Co-op Owners. They also provide a senior discount of 5%.
Riverwest Grocery Co-op (Milwaukee)
733 E. Clarke St.
414-264-7933
www.riverwestcoop.org/
Hours: Weekdays 7:00am–9:00pm, Weekends 8:00am–9:00pm
Membership: approx. 2,500
Riverwest Co-op is the exception to the rule when it comes to political neutrality. They have allowed “Recall Walker” signs to be hung in the store, and have allowed people to collect signatures on the property. Riverwest Co-op offers a 2% discount for members of other co-ops, and in the future, would like to potentially expand within their building.
Stevens Point Area Co-op (Stevens Point)
633 2nd Street
715-341-1555
www.spacoop.com/
Hours: Weekdays 9:00am–8:00pm, Saturday-Sunday 10:00am–5:00pm
Membership:1,411
Stevens Point Co-op does offer 5% reciprocity discount with Willy Street Co-op Owner card. They also offer an everyday discount of 5% for seniors.
Trillium Natural Foods Community Co-op (Mt. Horeb)
517 Springdale Street
608-437-5288
www.trilliumnaturalfoods.com/
Hours: Monday–Thursday 9:00am–7:00pm, Fri 8:00am–6:00pm, Sat 10:00am–5:00pm, Sun 10:00am–2:00pm
Membership: 320 households
Trillium currently offers reciprocity to Willy Street Co-op Owners. They are considering a new low-income membership (like Willy Street Co-op’s Access discount), and currently offer a senior 5% discount.
Viola Food Co-op (Viola)
110 West Commercial Street
608-627-1476
Hours: Monday 2:00pm–4:30pm,Thurs & Fri 2:00pm–6:00pm, Sat 12:00pm–4:00pm
Membership: 12
Viola Food Co-op is the smallest on this list, and there is no surcharge for anyone who shops at this store. There are no current plans for changes or expansion.
Viroqua Food Co-op (Viroqua)
609 North Main Street
608-637-7511
viroquafood.coop/
Hours: Monday–Saturday 7:00am–9:00pm, Sunday 9:00am–8:00pm
Membership: 2,860
Viroqua has a “hardship membership,” which is either a reduced or subsidized membership. This past year, they added a new parking lot to accommodate their growth.
Whole Earth Grocery Co-op (River Falls)
126 S Main Street
715-425-7971
wholeearthgrocery.coop
Hours: Mon - Sat 9:00am–8:00pm Sun 10:00am–6:00pm
Membership: approx 1,200
Whole Earth offers a discounted student membership for the school year. In the future, they may add to their deli, as they recently expanded their fresh meat selection with good results.
Yahara River Grocery Co-op (Stoughton)
229 East Main Street
608-877-0947
www.yaharagrocery.coop
Hours: Monday–Friday 9:00am–7:00pm; Saturday-Sunday 9:00am–6:00pm
Membership: about 1,100
Yahara Co-op does not have a surcharge, and offers Senior Wednesdays. Their future plans are to continue persevering and stay afloat.