Willimantic Food Co-Op Records
Scope and Content
The collection includes minutes, by-laws, correspondence, publications, administrative and financial records, photographs pertaining to the activities and interests of the organization and its members from its founding through 1986 [1979-1985 bulk dates].
- Creation: 1972-1994
The collection is open and available for research.
Restrictions on Use
Permission to publish from these Papers must be obtained in writing from both the University of Connecticut Libraries and the owner(s) of the copyright.
The Willimantic Food Co-op (WFC) originated as the Willimantic Buyer's Club (WBC), a private pre-order food buying club, which began operating during the early 1970s [1974/1975?] in the basement of St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Valley Street in Willimantic, CT. Throughout its existence members have referred to the organization as the Co-op. Members pooled their money, ordered in bulk, and met once a month to distribute food. It was a community-owned business that obtained capital from its members, and its success depended on their cooperation and participation. Lifetime dues were one dollar and an additional one dollar per month deposit was required.
For the first three years the membership remained at about forty families. By 1978 the WBC consisted of eighty households, or approximately one hundred fifty to one hundred seventy individuals, from Willimantic and adjacent towns including Coventry, Columbia, Mansfield, Chaplin, Lebanon, and Ashford. Membership further expanded in 1979 following the 1978 dissolution of the UConn Cooperative Buyer's Club at Storrs.
In March 1979, a VISTA worker was assigned to the WBC for outreach purposes to attract low-income people as members. The goal was to reach the low-income, senior citizen, and Hispanic communities. According to the December 1979 WBC by-laws, the organization was a center from which other cooperative efforts in the larger community could begin. The Co-op was to engage in educational and informational activities for the purpose of spreading knowledge of cooperative principles, theories, and practices as well as other information of interest to consumers. It was also to assist other cooperatives and nonprofit organizations.
The merger of the WBC and the UConn Cooperative Buyer's Club in [1978/79?], limited space at the church, and growing community interest encouraged the membership to establish a storefront and to offer cooperative food buying to nonmembers. The storefront was to have a central location that was close to Eastern Connecticut State University and off-campus housing, and which would enable maximum access for the majority of Willimantic's low-income, senior citizen, and Hispanic communities. In February 1980, the storefront opened at 861 Main Street, Willimantic, and the name of the cooperative was changed to the WFC. It was a member of Connecticut Co-ops, a statewide federation and cooperative food warehouse, and by 1982 the WFC had five ad hoc committees: Outreach, Inventory, Finance/Planning, Phone, and Jobs.
People joined the WBC and the WFC to save money and to gain some control over the type of food available, but getting volunteers to work in exchange for a discount on food became increasingly difficult. By 1982, the WFC had to remove its compulsory work requirement at the store in order to attract more members. It also increased its inventory to bring in more customers. Despite these changes, the store continued to face two problems: it was started without enough capital, and the Co-op tried to stay organized as if it was still a private buyer's club.
After narrowly avoiding bankruptcy, there was a major restructuring of the Co-op's finances and other organizational matters in the mid-1980s. During that period, it also became a member of Northeast Co-ops and presented outreach education services to community groups such as the Lion's Club and the Rotary Club. By the late 1980s there were personnel changes which led to stable staffing and other improvements, and the Co-op acquired much equipment when the New Haven Co-op declared bankruptcy.
From its beginning, the WFC had much in common with other organizations that were part of the food co-op movement, which dates back to the 1800s in the United States. In the twentieth-century, food co-ops were popular during the Depression of the 1930s, provided an ideal way of shopping for many youth in the 1960s, and surged with inflation and became a life-style alternative during the 1970s. By the early 1980s, co-ops were largely a middle-class or working-class phenomena but tended to be associated with a young urban counterculture and the back-to-earth movement of the 1960s. The food co-op movement had developed as the result of people's desire and demand to be in control of who supplied goods for their sustenance. It also offered a political alternative to a profit-oriented centralized food industry, where profit precluded good health and nutrition. The WFC was founded as an extension of alternative movements that came out of a tradition of world peace, respect for the earth and all living beings, community involvement, and control of the essentials of our lives. Alternative groups were encouraged to post advertisements, pamphlets, newsletters, and similar materials in the Co-op storefront as long as they were not racist, sexist, militaristic, or otherwise contrary to the principles of peace, justice, environmental responsibility, and respect for others.
In 1991, the WFC moved to its present location at 27 Meadow Street, Willimantic. At that time it was a one-million-dollar-a-year business with a membership of about sixteen hundred. Due to the business decisions made in the mid-1980s, it survived and is the only remaining natural foods co-op in Connecticut. All other co-ops in the state went bankrupt. The WFC continues to provide members and the general public with natural foods at reduced rates.
6.5 Linear Feet
Language of Materials
The Willimantic Food Co-Op (WFC) originated as the Willimantic Buyer's Club (WBC), a private pre-order food buying club, which began operating during the early 1970s [1974/1975?] in the basement of St. Paul's Episcopal Church on Valley Street in Willimantic, CT. In 1991 the WFC moved to its present location at 27 Meadow Street, Willimantic. It is a one-million-dollar-a-year business with a membership of about sixteen hundred. Due to the business decisions made in the mid-1980s, it survived and is the only remaining natural foods co-op in CT. All other co-ops in the state went bankrupt. The WFC continues to provide members and the general public with natural foods at reduced rates.
SERIES I: MINUTES AND BY-LAWS (1979-1985) includes two subseries: Willimantic Buyer's Club and Willimantic Food Co-op. The Willimantic Buyer's Club includes minutes and by-laws. Among the subjects covered in the minutes are dues, orders, fund- raising events, job and work requirements, advertising, finances, the newsletter, and storefront. The by-laws outline the purpose and goals of the Co-op, its membership, executive committee, and finances. Willimantic Food Co-op contains only by-laws. The series is arranged chronologically.
SERIES II: ADMINISTRATIVE FILES (1977- 1985) consists of three subseries: Membership, Alphabetical Files, and Subject Files. Topics covered by this series include the storefront, Nutrition Education Program, VISTA, low-income and senior citizens, and other co-ops. Membership contains index cards with the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of members and the hours they worked at the Co-op. Alphabetical Files includes correspondence, survey forms, membership lists, job descriptions, and other general office files. Subject Files contain background literature on issues being addressed by the Co-op. The series is arranged chronologically.
SERIES III: PUBLICATIONS (1978-1985) has two subseries: Pamphlets and Flyers, and Newsletters. They provide information on the history of the Co-op, its social and fund-raising events, hours, policies, by-laws, board of directors, sales, Co-op orders calendar, recipes, and health and nutrition. Some were printed in Spanish in order to reach the local Hispanic population. The series is arranged chronologically.
SERIES IV: FINANCIAL RECORDS (1976-1985) is arranged in four subseries: Orders and Price Lists, Invoices and Receipts, Financial Statements, and Loans and Funding. The entire series was weeded to reduce its size and to eliminate records of no value.
Orders and Price Lists documents the process of ordering and distributing goods to Co-op members, and provides a comparison between Co-op prices and those at supermarkets. It includes sample order forms for cheese, meat, natural foods, and produce. The subseries is arranged alphabetically and chronologically.
Invoices and Receipts was the only group of records in the collection for which some of the original order had been maintained. Most invoices for 1980 and 1982 were filed alphabetically by product name. Those for 1978 through 1982 which were filed by year were sampled and integrated into the alphabetical arrangement. The invoices selected for retention document the products purchased by the Co-op and the names and addresses of its suppliers. Normand Savoie Whole Sale Food and Produce, Pepperidge Farm Baked Food Products, and Connecticut Co-ops, Inc. were the main suppliers for the years represented by the invoices. The Co-op paid most suppliers of goods and services by check rather than cash. The subseries is arranged alphabetically.
Financial Statements documents the Co-op's financial operations. It consists of bank statements, checks, deposit slips, receipts, account books, operating statements, monthly financial statements, and other materials. The subseries is arranged chronologically.
Loans and Funding contains Co-op loans and information on other funding. It is arranged alphabetically.
SERIES V: UCONN COOPERATIVE BUYER'S CLUB (1976-1978) includes a variety of materials which provide little information on the organization's operations. The UConn Cooperative Buyer's Club was comprised of a natural foods co-op, produce co-op, and bread and cheese co-op. The co-op dissolved in [1978?] and many of its members joined the WBC. The series is arranged alphabetically.
SERIES VI: RESOURCES (1972-1985) contains literature on several organizations and subjects. Some, such as ConnPIRG Channel and Co-op Magazine, were available for reading in the storefront. The series is arranged alphabetically.
The Willimantic Food Co-Op Records were donated to the University of Connecticut Libraries in April 1991 by the Co-Op via Ellen Embardo.
- Willimantic Food Co-Op Records
- Archives & Special Collections staff
- 2002 July
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