Ocean Beach People's Co-op Goes Green

Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Co-op in San Diego has a new home. A new environmentally green building has been constructed next to the building that housed the co-op beginning in 1975. The fixtures may be new, but the foundation remains the same, a foundation that is built on a sense of community and a desire to help people live in ways that are ecologically sustainable and that promote personal health and well-being. These are the ideas that got things started in the first place, the ideas that helped People's Co-op to grow, and that are reflected in our new green building.


Ocean Beach People's Co-op
The new building next to the old one on Voltaire Street


Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Co-op began in 1971 as a neighborhood buying club, working out of a vacant storefront. The idea was to provide an alternative to existing retail food stores, a store where shoppers would be offered products at fair and reasonable prices -- a store belonging to the community it serves.

Needing more space to operate, an apartment storefront was opened at 4859 Voltaire Street in 1972. In 1973 People's moved into the building at 4765 Voltaire, a former pool hall. A lot of hard work went into the transformation to a grocery store, and volunteers did much of that work. The community spirit was alive and well at People's Co-op.

Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Co-op

San Diego, California

    former site new site
Sales   $6 million/year $2 million/quarter
Size retail: 3,200 sq. ft. 7,500 sq. ft.
  total: 7,000 sq. ft. 13,000 sq. ft.
Members   5,360  
Customer count     850
Average transaction     $22.00
Project cost     $2.25 million

In our new building that same sense of community can be felt. The member-volunteers that showed up to help move the contents of the co-op from one building to the other were amazing. If anyone ever doubted that people working together could accomplish something terrific, they should have seen the volunteers and co-op staff during those first few days.

Prior to demolition of the old co-op building, plans were made to recycle as much of the structure as possible. This included recovering all wood that was salvageable and taking it to Tijuana, Mexico where it will be used to build homes in economically depressed neighborhoods. The building's cement and parking lot asphalt will also be recycled. Store fixtures from the old building have been donated to other co-ops: shelving and register stands have been given to the Venice Co-op, Quincy Co-op received our freezers and bulk bins, and Isla Vista Co-op received our produce wet rack and several display racks. Our perishables compressor was given to the Good Faith Organic Farm, our neighborhood farm, which provides the co-op with local organic produce and educates neighborhood school children about sustainable agriculture. (See CG #85/November-December 1999 for a report on our farm.)

Ocean Beach bulk department

Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Co-op's new green building was designed by the award winning architectural firm of Hanna, Gabriel and Wells. This creative group of individuals was sensitive from the beginning to the desires of the co-op. Moving from 6,000 square feet to 13,000 square feet without losing the intimacy of People's Co-op was a real challenge. Some of the features that reinforce a sense of community include the second floor mezzanine, which wraps around the interior of the building. This is where the staff offices are located as well as the service deli, a large seating area where shoppers can rest or get a bite to eat, and a community room that is available for meetings and classes.

The ceiling-to-floor windows in front of the seating area look out onto Voltaire Street, providing a great view and an open, spacious feeling. Shoppers can find a table in the deli area or grab a stool at the deli bar and watch the action below on the main floor.

Respect for the environment has always been a primary force behind Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Co-op. Our new green building emphasizes this value in a number of ways. The building was constructed using non-toxic, recycled, and sustainably harvested building materials at every opportunity. No old growth wood was used. Day lighting is used extensively, and motion sensors operate all electric lighting. Optimal lighting is achieved while at the same time maximizing energy savings. All windows and skylights are double glazed and use low-E glass designed to minimize undesirable heat gain. Skylights and windows are operable and placed to maximize cross ventilation. The store temperature is comfortable for shoppers and is not dependent on expensive, energy-wasting and environmentally polluting airconditioning.

Another energy efficient design feature is the photovoltaic cells on the roof (and, in the future, cells in the parking area) that will provide a large portion of the building's power needs. When these photovoltaic cells manufacture electricity, the co-op's electric meter will run backwards, earning credit for electricity needed when the sun is not shining. Other energy savings features include solar water heating and landscaping that primarily uses drought-tolerant plants.  An energy efficient refrigeration system upgrade includes a capacity increase of 25% in our refrigeration system condensers.  This is a passive addition that reduces energy consumption by reducing the running times of electric motors and the compressors that they power.  All walk-in cooler floors are insulated from the earth and include thermal barriers to prevent cold-box slabs from serving as a heat sink for the building's concrete floor. In addition, we will be using R-408-A refrigerant instead of R-404-A, which will save an estimated 20,000 kwh per year. The new building embraces the careful utilization of natural resources, and energy efficient strategies minimize the impact on the environment. The building project has won an energy efficient design award from the San Diego Gas and Electric's Savings by Design Program.

One of the main purposes of the new building is to have a place where we can shop for the things that make our lives healthier; but it goes much deeper than that. "Along with this manifestation of our vision to create an inspiring, ecological and more convenient shopping and working environment, we have also created a space that can be used to expand our sense of community and nurture our desire to relate to each other," says Nancy Casady, co-op general manager. Expanded retail space means more room to move in and a little extra space to chat with that old friend you just ran into. More storage space for the various departments means adequate back stock to make sure that People's Co-op can order efficiently and keep shelves filled. Areas designated for each department provide workers with an open, efficient workspace for the non-stop behind the scenes activities. And as always, knowledgeable, helpful staff are on hand to help the customers.

For their work on our new co-op building, architects Hanna, Gabriel and Wells received awards from the San Diego Chapter of the American Institute of Architects; the Energy Efficiency Integration award sponsored by San Diego Gas & Electric; and the 2001 Merit Award, which recognizes the overall design.

If you haven't been to the new building yet, come on down and check it out.  While co-op is member-owned, non-members can shop and are always welcome. Membership costs $15 per year. Non-members pay a 10% surcharge on their purchases. Over 5,000 families currently belong to Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Co-op, which is the largest employer, with 73 employees, in Ocean Beach.

The future of Ocean Beach People's Organic Food Co-op is here and now, and the new building captures this excitement with efficiency and style.  The community that started People's Food Co-op over thirty years ago has much to be proud of, and the ever expanding community that keeps the co-op growing has much to look forward to in the years ahead.  There will be challenges to face, of course, but with a foundation of community, environmental stewardship, and wellbeing, obstacles can be overcome.

Add comment

Log in to post comments