1974 - 1976
Co+opportunity began as the Westside Buyers Club in the Mississippi Avenue garage of George Tucker in West Los Angeles, where he ran an herb-buying club. George, a UCLA graduate with a scientific background, was one of four founders, along with Mike Timko, a committed anarchist and Peace and Freedom Party member, David J. Thompson, a community organizer, public speaker, and writer with ties to the English cooperative movement, and Bill Lyfield, a long-time Venice activist and musician who became Eytan Ben Sheviya. Passionate and committed to Natural Foods, all four had been involved in the Consumers Cooperative Society of Santa Monica (CCSSM), and they decided to invest and help in any way they could to open a real store. George stepped up and said he was prepared to run the co-op alongside his herb business, form a limited partnership, rent a store, and loan the co-op $5,000. By late spring they were able to find a vacant storefront on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Los Angeles.
Shortly before opening the store on August 24, 1974, the founding cooperators were having a group meeting in a borrowed store front with the front door open because of the intense summer heat. As they earnestly discussed what to name their co-op, a young hippie came in and sat in the back of the room. He quietly listened to the discussion. After awhile, he finally said, “I’ve been listening to you all talk about this store as a great opportunity, and how it’s a co-op - why not call it Co+opportunity?” There was a silence, then heads began to nod, and the vote was unanimously in favor! By the time they turned to thank the young stranger, he had walked into the cool night air and was gone.
With its health food orientation, Co+opportunity grew quickly from 20 owners in August 1974 to 400 owners by September 1975. A monthly sales volume of $7,000 was straining the store’s capacity. They now had to find a larger location.
1976 - 1995
To make Co+opportunity feel like part of a community, their first choice was the city of Santa Monica. After a nine-month search, they found a location on 16th and Broadway. It was in a quiet, commercial-industrial area, on a lot packed with Hertz rental trucks and used cars. On July 4th, 1976, members used their cars, vans and trucks to move all of the inventory and fixtures down Santa Monica Blvd to the new store at 1530 Broadway. In anticipation of this growth, the co-op had incorporated in January 1976, and changed its status from a limited partnership to a cooperative corporation in July. Co-opportunity elected its first Board of Directors in September 1976.
In February of 1977, with the co-op still increasing in membership and sales growth, an opportunity arose to lease an additional 1,500 square footage of space on the property where Co+opportunity was located. The Board and its workers saw the potential in the space and proceeded to build a meeting room. Shortly after, a produce wholesale was added that created additional needs for capital and inventory. In September of 1977 a major increase in staff wages was agreed upon by the Board without specifying where the additional funds would come from. By July of 1977 the co-op began to experience a downturn in profits. Stress and tension over control escalated problems both operational and organizational that would send the young cooperative through its lowest years. Fighting to overcome bankruptcy and operating for a while without a General Manager, some thought there would come a time when the co-op would have to close its doors. With help from a team of UCLA graduate students, staff created a management system that provided closer control and supervision of the operation, while the Board and staff agreed upon their areas of influence as membership expanded. In 1979, Co+opportunity had its first profitable year.
1995 - 2011
The co-op weathered a stormy period in the 1980s to emerge as a healthy organization in the 1990s. The Board took the brave step of hiring Will Simon as General Manager and giving him real power as a manager. He had the enviable task of plugging a hundred holes into a sinking organization before it could move forward. Will had owned and managed several natural food stores in the 1960s and 1970s. Once Will began applying his business knowledge to the organization and its operations, making necessary changes and flipping the whole store inside and out, sales and financial performance immediately improved.
By the early 1990s the store was jam-packed with owners and shoppers and becoming almost impossible to deal with. Will noticed that there was an empty lot directly across the street from the store at 1525 Broadway. He and the Board got together and worked out a plan. In 1995 a new store was built especially for Co+opportunity. Under the helm of the savvy business man, the move doubled the co-op's retail space, and sales increased immediately.
2011 - 2016
Twenty years before Will Simon was hired, the co-op was in bankruptcy and had virtually nothing. When Will retired in 2006, the co-op had 1.8 million in cash in the bank and had become a financially solid, debt-free business, poised to thrive and grow even more.
Today it’s still that flourishing cooperative with deep roots in the community. In 2011, Co+opportunity experienced a major makeover of not only its physical location, but operations in general. With over 40 years in business, the long road of growth for Co+opportunity has developed this cooperative into a rich community staple.
Having gone from four founders to over 14,000 members and growing, our future potential is truly unlimited!
Co+opportunity’s second store opened in Culver City!
*For more Co+opportunity history, purchase a copy of the book, “Co+opportunity: The Rise of a Community Owned Market,” written by founding owner, David J. Thompson. Available on Amazon.com.