BY COLEEN BREMER, BCC BOARD MEMBER
October is Co-op Month, so we would like to share some information about co-ops in general, as well as some history about Bluff Country Co-op.
A co-operative has been defined as, “a farm, business, or other organization which is owned and run jointly by its members, who share the profits or benefits.” There are many types of co-ops, such as retail co-operatives, service cooperatives, housing cooperatives, credit unions and energy co-ops. Co-ops are owned by their members who have made a modest investment in the business, have a voice in the governance of the business, are customers of the business, and share in profits of the business. Co-op members elect a board of directors from among the membership, and board members are responsible for ensuring that the co-op carries out its stated mission and remains true to its principles and values.
While many shoppers are members, customers do not need to be members to shop at Bluff Country Co-op. Everyone is welcome! Members do get special pricing on certain items, however, as well as discounts for buying cases of some products. Members also receive dividends each year based on their patronage of the store.
Bluff Country Co-op supports the community by stocking its shelves as much as possible with products that are produced or created locally and sustainably. It also contributes to several charitable and nonprofit organizations in the community through member donations, the Beans for Bags program, and the Round Up at the Register Campaign.
Bluff Country Co-op has a long history in Winona. It opened as “Famine Foods” on October 4, 1972, and was located at 114 East Second Street. In 1989, Famine Foods changed its name to Bluff Country Co-op. In October 2000, the store relocated to 121 West Second Street. The business did very well, and in 2005 its annual sales reached $1.3 million. By 2016 Bluff Country had outgrown its space. It purchased the other half of the building on West Second Street, remodeled extensively, and updated its equipment. In October 2017 the store and its members and customers celebrated its grand opening. In 2018 the annual sales reached $3.5 million.
Today Bluff Country Co-op has over 2,000 member-owners, and offers three hot meals a day in addition to smoothies, homemade soups, roasted whole chickens, and the grab-and-go salads and sandwiches. There are tables and chairs at the front of the store for customers to eat a hot meal or grab a cup of coffee with a friend.
On Saturdays special programs and cooking lessons are available that anyone is welcome to attend. There are cooking lessons for elementary and secondary students, as well as adults. Also on Saturdays, there are tables set up for patrons to sample products from various departments.
Visit the store’s website at bluff.coop for a tour of the store, its kitchen menu, the events calendar, and more.