What is a cooperative (or co-op)?

A co-op is an association of people who voluntarily cooperate for their mutual social, economic, and cultural benefit.

In plain language, this means that a co-op is a community-owned and community-managed business or non-profit.

Cooperatives include non-profit community organizations and businesses that are owned and managed by the people who use their services (a consumer cooperative) or by the people who work there (a worker cooperative).  A food co-op is popular form of cooperative.

All cooperatives worldwide share this same set of principles:

  • Voluntary and open membership
  • Democratic member control
  • Member economic participation
  • Autonomy and independence
  • Education, training, and information
  • Cooperation among cooperatives
  • Concern for community

Why a cooperative food store model?

Big chain grocery stores have failed to come to Lovettsville and surrounding communities. The Lovettsville Co-op knows from our market research that we don't quite have the demographics or population density to entice them.

A community-owned grocery store (or a food co-op) is our answer to this problem. 

Co-op business models, when well-planned and executed, are more likely to succeed than private businesses are! Community support is built into the cooperative model. Unless the community support is there--and, as our feasibility studies have told us, it is here in Lovettsville, Brunswick, and surrounding communities---a co-op will not get off the ground. 

More than 300 food co-ops around the country serve communities and support local producers where the big chains have failed to do so.  The co-op movement, on a national level, can support our local effort by providing information, education, technical assistance, and even financial assistance.  The Lovettsville Co-op Market has already benefitted from this type of support when we were awarded a $10,000 matching grant from the Food Co-op Initiative (FCI), a 501(c)3 non-profit, which assists retail grocery co-ops by enabling a faster and more efficient start-up process.  Additionally, by structuring the store as a co-op, member-owners control the store’s development, management, finances, and food policies in ways they would not be able to within a conventional grocery store model.

Why locate a grocery store in Lovettsville?

Lovettsville-area residents regularly drive more than 20 miles round trip to shop for healthy and high-quality food.  Community surveys conducted by the Co-op indicated that residents want a closer alternative and we have more than 500 members who agree! Recent market studies sponsored by the Town of Lovettsville also indicated that a small, independent grocery store could keep millions of dollars in the local economy. 

What is involved in creating a co-op?

There are roughly three phases required to create a co-op:

Phase 1:  Establishing the organization, building a strong membership and financial base, and creating mutually supportive links to the community.  This phase may take several years.

Phase 2:  Locating, securing, and preparing an appropriate retail location.

Phase 3:  Hiring and training staff, establishing a supply chain, and purchasing inventory.

What is the role of a co-op member?

Two roles of a co-op member are governance and leadership via the ability to elect (and to serve as) board members and vote on co-op policies and practices.   As equity holders, through their memberships, and in some cases as lenders, members also help to capitalize the co-op.

What are the benefits of joining the co-op?

Membership conveys many benefits!  In addition to having a direct voice in decisions related to the store, there are both pre-and post-opening benefits.  Prior to the store opening, members may participate in food and wine tastings, educational programs, and benefit events either for free or at a reduced member rate.  Once the store has opened for business, members may receive annual rebates, based on their purchases, in profitable years.  Each membership supports relationships with local farmers and suppliers of agricultural and other grocery products.  And, more than anything, by joining the co-op, each new member speeds up the process of opening the store’s doors!

Why is it important to build membership before the store opens?

Membership equity is the basic building block of our capital foundation and is the key to bringing other investment resources on board.  In other words, a growing membership base gives us, our lenders, and other investors confidence in our future success.  Community support is the most important element of any cooperative!

Who are the members of the Lovettsville Cooperative Market?

Our members are food consumers (and some local producers) who live in Lovettsville, Brunswick, and surrounding communities, such as Waterford, Hamilton, and Lucketts, Virginia, as well as Knoxville and Jefferson, Maryland, and even nearby parts of West Virginia.  Members share a common desire to bring a community-scale, high-quality food store to Lovettsville in order to serve our market area.

Will only members be allowed to shop at the Lovettsville Co-op?

Anyone will be able to shop at the Lovettsville Cooperative Market; however, only co-op members may receive end-of-year rebates and participate in co-op governance.

Has a location for the store been identified?

The Lovettsville Cooperative Market (Lovettsville Co-op) and Lovettsville Volunteer Fire and Rescue (LVFR) announced on August 9th, 2016 plans to locate the future Co-op grocery store within the existing LVFR building on Berlin Turnpike just outside Lovettsville town limits.  The collaborative agreement will go into effect after the Fire and Rescue moves to a new station adjacent to the current location.

Will the co-op support or compete with local farmers’ markets?

Experience around the country indicates that food co-ops and farmers’ markets not only co-exist successfully, but also strengthen each other.  Both co-ops and farmers’ markets promote fresh and local products and a healthy food culture.  Whereas farmers’ markets are often seasonal operations (such as the Lovettsville Co-op Farm Market that serves our community from June to September), co-ops provide a market for local farm products to be sold year round.

How do I join the Co-op?

The easiest way to become a member is to click the “Join Us!” link on the homepage, allowing you to use PayPal for membership payments.  A single membership requires a one-time investment of $200, which may be paid all at once, in four quarterly $50 payments, or in eight bi-monthly $25 payments. You may also pay for your membership in full by mailing a check to LCM at P.O. Box 216, Lovettsville, VA 20180.

Will there be annual fees or dues?

Some co-ops have used annual fees as a way to provide additional working capital in the start-up years.  The current board hopes that the co-op will be well capitalized through our membership growth and member loan campaign in order to avoid the need for this additional revenue.