East Lansing Food Co-op to Close in February 2017

Amid Low Business

Bruce Grambau, the general manager at the co-op, said sales have been steadily decreasing during the past few years.

Grambau credits the decrease in sales to the competition surrounding the store growing.

“The main (reason for closing) is the new competition in the area with Fresh Thyme and Whole Foods and conventional grocery stores carrying a lot of organic produce and products,” Grambau said.

Since the customers who would shop at the co-op were mostly people who were looking for “local, organic products,” as Grambau said, it became hard for the co-op to stand out when other grocery stores began to do that as well.

The decision to close the co-op came after the board met to discuss the aforementioned issues the store had been facing. Following this vote, the co-op notified their customers of their closing on its website.

“Sadly, the ELFCO Board was obliged to vote on Monday, January 2 to close the store on or before February 4," ELFCO wrote. "In the meantime, we are still in business and urge owners and non-owners alike to come shop with us and support the food co-op.”

After this announcement, many customers were disappointed to hear the news of their local grocery store closing. Eugene Kales, a weekly shopper at the co-op, said the news of the co-op closing is “unfortunate.”

He mostly comes into the co-op for a couple basic items but always ends up shopping around for other items.

“The thing that always brings me in is milk, milk and butter,” Kales said. “Then I’ll shop around and if I need something else, I’ll get something else.”

While ELFCO does carry grocery staples such as milk and butter, what gets people like Kales to explore the store and buy more than the basics are the local organic products, like Grambau talked about.

When asked what he’s going to do following the closing of his grocery shopping spot, Kales said, “I’m going to have to find a new place to get milk.”

Similarly, Ben Rollenhagen, another regular customer of the co-op, said ELFCO is his regular store for purchasing spices.

“It’s the only place I can get bulk spices like this, bulk oils, bulk vanilla, so it’s more like a specialty store for me,” Rollenhagen said.

Even though Rollenhagen only comes in for specialty items, he was still unhappy to hear about the store closing.

“I’m actually kind of bummed,” Rollenhagen said. “I like to see smaller businesses or at least co-op style businesses succeed. To my knowledge this is the only one in town or in the area, so it’s kind of a real bummer.”

There are other grocery stores close by, such as Whole Foods Market, Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market and Foods for Living, but they don’t quite meet the needs of some customers.

Much like Rollenhagen, the other available grocery stores aren’t quite enough for Brian McKenna, who shops at the co-op three or four times a week. McKenna said the co-op closing is “a very big loss for the community.”

Adding onto this, he joked that without this co-op in business, he will just starve. In reality, he hopes that this co-op will continue to function, but possibly in a different form.

“There are some co-ops in Philadelphia, where I’m from, that when the co-op movement started, they never had a brick and mortar place, they just had a place where they assembled once a week,” McKenna said. “We’re hoping this co-op does that.”

Grambau mentioned the possibility of something like what McKenna is looking for coming about, but there is no certainty of it.

Grambau suggested that customers, like McKenna, who want to see the co-op continue to function, should email the co-op’s board of directors to let them know they are interested in seeing the store open once again.

“We’ll see if there will be something in the future down the line at a different location possibly, or in a different format, but that’s all to be determined,” Grambau said.

Article by By Brendan Baxter January 12, 2017 

Photo by: Kelly vanFrankenhuyzen: East Lansing resident Mark Balawender shops on March 23, 2016 at East Lansing Food Co-op on 4960 Nordwind Drive. Balawender shopped at the co-op because of the business models and deals.

East Lansing resident Lydia Sabacina rings up Bath resident Phil Throop on March 23, 2016 at East Lansing Food Co-op on 4960 Nordwind Drive. People shopped at the co-op because of the business models and deals.

Photo by Nic Antaya | The State News: East Lansing resident Eugene Kales looks at a variety of grains on Jan. 7, 2017 at the East Lansing Food Cooperative at 4960 Northwind Drive in East Lansing. Kales said he has visited the East Lansing Food Cooperative since it opened and shops about once a week. The East Lansing Food Cooperative is closing on Feb. 4, 2017. 

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