City Center Market Wins National Award for Co-op Excellence

Cambridge’s City Center Market has won the Consumer Cooperative Management Association’s 2016 Cooperative Excellence Retailer of the Year Award.

The natural foods co-op was nominated and supported for the award by other co-ops locally and nationally. The Retailer of the Year Award, presented during the [CCMA] national conference held June 9-11 in Amherst, Massachusetts, is given to a co-op that demonstrates strengths including leadership, strategic planning, organizational effectiveness, human resources and business results.

Gayle Cupit, City Center Market general manager, said 10 to 12 letters of support were submitted by other co-ops in support of City Center Market receiving the award.

“It’s an oasis of warmth, health and generosity, tucked into this small community off Highway 65,” wrote Amy Fields, general manager of Eastside Food in her letter of support. “City Center Market may be small, but it packs a huge punch — this is community ownership of community assets at its best.”

It is somewhat unusual for a natural foods co-op like City Center Market to be as successful as it has been in a community as small and rural as Cambridge and the surrounding area.

“We are the smallest co-op to ever have received this honor — smallest in terms of sales,” Cupit said. “People who move into this community from the cities are often surprised to find that Cambridge does have a co-op and one that can offer what ours does to our shoppers.”

Cupit emphasized the importance of the local community to City Center Market’s essential functions. As a co-op, City Center Market is owned by a group of community members who all have a stake in its success.

“Profits don’t go to a corporate headquarters somewhere else,” Cupit said. “All the profits stay right here and are used here in the co-op to continue benefiting the store and the community and our owners.”

As for what the award means for City Center Market, Cupit says it validates their hard work since moving downtown nine years ago.

“It was difficult,” Cupit said. “We weren’t really ready to move the business, but we had to because our former location was so old.”

Once the co-op moved, they were hampered by nearby road construction, which deterred customers and prevented the co-op from hitting its sales projections.

“We struggled financially for the first four or five years before we finally got our feet under us,” Cupit said.

In the aftermath of winning this award, Cupit said the market does not intend to rest on its laurels or grow complacent. They will keep looking for new goods and services to offer, and she says they would like to expand their deli in the future.

“At a time when small food co-ops are struggling nationally, City Center Market has proven that it is not only possible to recover from challenging times, but to thrive and serve as an excellent example of what a huge impact a small food co-op can have in a community,” wrote Michelle Schry, NCG central corridor development manager, in her letter of support

The co-op also wants to serve as an advocate for Cambridge’s downtown.

“We’re very interested, as a business, in contributing to and enhancing the shopability and the appearance and the accessibility of the downtown Cambridge area,” Cupit said. “We’re happy to be in the downtown area, and we want to do whatever we can to help it thrive.”

The impulse to bring quality services to the local community, rather than to travel away for them, has driven the co-op since its beginning, Cupit said. City Center Market was started in 1979 “by a group of folks who didn’t want to drive to the cities to buy their organic foods and bulk foods.”

“We feel lucky to be able to be in Cambridge,” Cupit said.

City Center Market is located at 122 Buchanan St. N., Cambridge, and can be reached at 763-689-4640.

by Austin Gerth • Published June 30, 2016, in the Isanti County News

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