Remembering Citizen's Co-op

in Gainesville, Florida

As some groceries proliferate, co-op and Earth Origins close

Thursday August 11, 2016

Citizens Co-op, a member-owned cooperative, opened in July 2011 to offer local, organic and natural foods.

While grocery stores are proliferating in Gainesville, two that provide natural and organic foods are in the process of closing.

The Citizens Co-op board decided at its Wednesday meeting to close the store at 435 S. Main St., saying in a letter to members Thursday that "it has consistently had operating expenses which were greater than revenue."

At the same time, a sign at the Earth Origins Market at 521 NW 13th St. says that store is closing and offering discounts. A call to the store's corporate headquarters Thursday was not returned by press time.

The other Earth Origins locations, including the one at 1237 NW 76th Blvd., have continued to advertise weekly sales that did not apply to the 13th Street location.

Citizens Co-op General Manager Kim Drummond said the store never recovered the community support it had before a labor dispute led to customer boycotts in 2014.

"And now there's just market saturation. There's so many grocery stores and there's only more opening up," she said.

Since 2012, Gainesville has seen the opening of Trader Joe's, Earth Fare and Lucky's Market, and a Wal-Mart Supercenter with a full grocery section, while plans are in the works for two Aldis, a 365 by Whole Foods and a Publix under construction a few blocks from Earth Origins.

Citizens Co-op, a member-owned cooperative, opened in July 2011 to offer local, organic and natural foods.

Members boycotted the store during the labor dispute and never fully returned even though the store settled with the employees by offering them their jobs back and paying a combined $10,000 in monthly installments, which were paid off in June.

Board member Neal Devine said co-ops attract people with high social, political and environmental expectations.

"During that crisis there were people signing up for memberships so they could vote and have some say in what's going on and never shop," he said.

Board member Rick Nesbit, who was involved from the beginning, said there was infighting among people who should have been cooperating.

"There's a lot of people that care about sustainable agriculture but sometimes the purity of your intentions doesn't actually match the reality of business," he said. "I think like we've seen with the Tea Party on the right wing of America, we've got some people who can't accept compromise on the left as well and they get a little too critical sometimes about the details that can cause friction."

Nesbit said he thought the Co-op's location was a problem, even though the area is starting to revitalize with the imminent opening of Depot Park.

"Unfortunately we were here before that."

"If we could just support local businesses, we'd all be a lot better off because that money recycles, and that's the lesson that I hope people can take to heart," he said.

The store is trying to sell off its remaining produce and equipment to be out by the end of the month.

The Earth Origins store on 13th Street started as a food co-op called Mother Earth Market across the street in the 1960s and moved to its current location in the late 1970s. Art Gore, who owned a small chain of natural food stores in South Florida, bought it in 1986 and opened the second location on 76th Boulevard in 1993, an Ocala store in 1996 and a Sarasota store in 1997. Natural Retail Group of Palm Harbor acquired the stores in 1998 and changed the name to Earth Origins in 2011.

by Anthony Clark, Business editor, The Gainesville Sun

Images are of the Citizen's Co-Op Mural

ABOUT THE CITIZEN'S CO-OP MURAL [text from designer Robert Finkel]

The Citizen’s Co-op is Gainesville, Florida’s member-owned grocery store offering locally produced and harvested foods from neighboring farms and businesses. The typographic mural included quotes from established thinkers and proponents of sustainable living integrated with the co-op’s own mission statement.

Over the course of several weekends, a group of volunteers and Co-Op members helped paint and install the fifty-foot long mural.The design process included researching quotes related to the Co-Op’s mission as well as editing their existing content. A scale rendering was created in Illustrator and outputted in sections on a plotter and tiled together to create a full-scale printout of the artwork.

The back of the printout was covered in graphite powder, hung on the wall, and then the lettering was traced over with ballpoint pen transferring a outline of the letterforms that was then painted by volunteers.

Learn more about mural designer Robert Finkel

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