Vancouver’s East End Food Co-op ends era with weekend closure

The end of an era arrived on Commercial Drive this weekend, as Vancouver’s last grocery co-op prepared to close its doors for good. After nearly 50 years, the East End Food Co-op will cease operations on Sunday.

On Saturday, the store was packed with customers like Debora Gordon, stocking her pantry with Co-op products for the last time.

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Gordon, who lives three blocks away, said he has been shopping there since 1992 and raised his children on food from the co-op.

“I really like the feeling that we are supporting the community, that we are supporting a cooperative. Sometimes it is a little more expensive, but we know that it will go back to the community and that is very important to me,” she said.

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Like other cooperatives, the East End Food Co-op is owned by its members, who elect a board and decide how profits are spent.

Board member Jacob Larmour said the business began as a buyers’ club before opening its first store on Victoria Drive in the mid-1970s. In the early 1980s, it moved into its current home in Commercial Drive, near Napier Street.

“We wanted to have some kind of celebration to mark this event, we wanted to go out in a big way, have a little fun. To me, this place has always been about community,” Larmour said.

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“I know the tellers, I know the other people who work here. This is almost like my living room or my pantry. I feel a sense of ownership here, whereas at a Safeway or something I don’t have the same feeling of being a participant, I feel more like a consumer.”

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Larmour said the store’s closure was the result of a decade-long declining trend in sales as the co-op has faced increased competition from other grocers in the area. In recent years, the organic supermarket chain Choices Markets, owned by Buy Low Foods, opened directly across the street.

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He said the store recently had a deficit of up to $10,000 a month.

A brief surge in sales at the start of the pandemic helped them start to pick up again, he said, but that didn’t last.

“This has been part of the campaign for the last 40, almost 50 years, so the legacy of the campaign as kind of the left-wing, more radical aspect of Vancouver life (the cooperative) is one of the legacies. of that,” he said.

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“It is also a surrender to gentrification, which is happening. It really symbolizes the change of what is happening here at Drive.”

In some ways, Larmour said the cooperative has become a victim of its own success. When it opened, it was one of the few grocery stores in the city specializing in organic and natural products.

Now those items are common on the shelves of many grocery stores in the area, as well as larger supermarket chains.

With the store closing, Gordon said he will take his business to other local grocers in the neighborhood, but told Global News it won’t be the same.

“We know everyone who works here. We have talks about their children, or the recipe they have made. They know my children,” she said.

“It is community. It’s so sad.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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