What is it? A cooperative business is owned and run by the people that use its services. While all business entities aim to generate profits, a cooperatively owned business focuses less on maximizing income, and more on serving the needs of the residents of a particular place. A cooperative lets community members take more control of their local economy. Many different types of businesses may be structured as a cooperative. On the consumer end, a farm-to-table restaurant, natural foods grocery store, or a marketplace might be a cooperative. A group of local producers, or artists, might also join together and form their own cooperative to expand the market reach they have individually, reduce costs, improve operations, or to strengthen the brand awareness of a regional asset such as beef, dairy or handcrafted items. Operating a business together fosters community economic development and helps participants exert more influence over their economic circumstances.
How has it been used? Friendly City Food Co-op opened in Harrisonburg, Virginia in 2011. Local community members had been working to create the coop since 2006. Only after attracting over a thousand member-owners did they break ground on a structure, and open to the public. Since then, the leadership has been further strengthening their relationships with local producers and providing even more fresh healthy food for shoppers. Member-owners are not only consumers that receive discounts for buying into the organization. They are also equal owners of the store, who democratically participate in organizational decision-making. The profits that result can be reinvested in the organization, donated outside the organization and returned to owners as dividends. This, like all other policy decisions, is voted on by the owners. (Source: Friendly City Food Co-op)