It was no coincidence that opening day for Abundance Food Co-op's new location at 571 South Avenue happened to coincide with Earth Day: the grand opening of its Marshall Street building was held on the same day in 2001.
Having grown to 2,500 co-owners, the need for a larger store and a more visible presence became necessary. The former 4,000-square-foot location was not that easy to find, tucked away at the end of Marshall Street. "Most people didn't know we were there," says Chris Whitebell, Abundance's marketing manager.
The move to the South Avenue location expanded the store three times over and added a 48-space parking lot — plus the visibility is high on a main road in one of Rochester's most popular neighborhoods. The new space will also have a community room for cooking classes, a bigger café, and a hot food bar. "We can carry more product. More volume means lower prices, so it will make it more affordable to shop," Whitebell says.
The evolution of Abundance started in 1998 when a few employees from the Natural Food Store at the Genesee Co-op on Monroe Avenue started the Abundance Buyers' Club on Caroline Street. The buyers' club kept individual prices low by allowing a small group of people to buy in bulk. That club in 2001 turned into the Abundance Coorporative Market on Marshall Street.
In a co-op, members buy a share — which is, in the case of Abundance, a one-time payment of $100 — essentially allowing members to become part owners of the store. The business is run under the principle of "one share, one person, one voice," which is aligned with one of the seven coorperative principles that similar businesses around the world operate by. These seven cooperative ideals — the Rochdale Principles — include open and voluntary membership; democratic member control; members' economic participation; autonomy and independence; education, training, and information; cooperation among cooperatives; and concern for community. Any shareholder can run for Abundance's board of directors and has a voice as to how the co-op is run. Co-owners receive a dividend at the end of the year, which is relative to what you spend shopping at the co-op — there is also a 10 percent discount that can be used once a month to shop.
Abundance operates really like any grocery store. It has a paid staff, and owners are able to volunteer to work at the store as well. Still, you don't have to be an owner of Abundance to shop there either; all are welcome.
Despite how large or small the space is — or how successful the co-op can be — the defining principle of knowing how your food is made, where it comes from, and that it is grown sustainably will remain the same, Whitebell says. Abundance supports fair labor practices, and has its non-GMO certification. It hopes to obtain a Food Justice Certification by the end of the year. The certification is given by the Agricultural Justice Project and guarantees just working and living conditions for the farmers producing the food as well as fair pricing and contracts for farmers and food businesses.
"We will continue to support smaller, family farms that may not have the resources to sell in larger grocery stores," Whitebell says.