Iim a huge fan of food co-ops. I discovered them seven years ago just after I moved to Austin Texas for graduate school. My personal philosophy has always been communitarian; about sharing, building and sustaining community n the very same principles that guide the co-op movement. Co-ops are grocery stores that exist beyond the purpose of selling food for profit to consumers. Sure, their goal is to make money, but in a way that respects the environment and advances social causes. Co-ops are all about educating people how to eat well, while promoting issues of sustainable culture, and ethical and fair trade business practices.
One of the first things I did when I arrived in Austin was to join the local food co-op, and long after Iive left, the experience is still one my most memorable from living in the heart of Texas. It was, perhaps, a couple of years ago, when I found the webpage of Lexington Co-op. I was surprised, yet inspired to learn that Buffalo had a large enough dedicated community to support a home grown cooperative. As a Torontonian, like many people up here, I was not aware of the extent of Buffalois thriving progressive scene which fits in well with the co-op philosophy.
Months later, while again on the website, I learned of the co-opis ambitious plans to build a new home to replace it original cramped quarters; further proof that Buffalo has a large enough community of conscience to warrant such expansion. Good news to read. Later still, I learned that the co-op was successful in raising all the money it needed to go ahead with the build. Increasingly, my interest to eventually see the co-op in person grew.
Several months ago, I finally had the chance to visit the co-op in person, during one of my visits to your city. Instantly, I was reminded how much I enjoy and miss the co-op vibe. As big as Toronto is, it does not support a co-op nearly as big as Lexington. So being back in a place that reminded me of my fond memories of Austin, was a comforting and enjoyable experience.
Though I had gotten a rough idea of what the co-op looked like from its website, in my opinion, the photos do not do justice to how truly beautiful and modern looking the building is. Its human scale fits perfectly into the Elmwood streetscape. The exterior brick and window treatment are simple and subdued yet inviting to passersby. And once inside, the place really impresses. Indeed, as soon as I walked in the entrance, the presence of many magazine racks filled with progressive publications, again took me back to my Austin co-op days. From the memories it evoked, to the storeis palpable sense of energy and activity, I was excited to be there.
The storeis high ceilings and cool pastel colors lend a soothing and calming feeling; just what one would expect at a food co-op. With each trip down a different aisle, more memories of Austin surfaced; the same foods, and the same scents I remember from years ago. As I inhaled the environment and watched shoppers fill their carts, I was again embraced with a sense of community n knowing that every person in that store was there for a purpose beyond just buying food. They were all making a statement about forward thinking values, about building community and about their concern for our earthis future. I was not surprised the staff was friendly, helpful and approachable. I was not surprised to see a beautiful produce section, and lots of educational information on a range of progressive topics.
What I was surprised to see, however, were so many shoppers. Again, it helped dispel my ignorance and erroneous assumptions about Buffalois lack of a socially conscious community. Yet itis no wonder these misconceptions lingered in my mind. Until that trip down Elmwood, my many visits into Buffalo were limited to the Northtowns, a.k.a. any other bland, nondescript, non-engaging place in America. Which brings me to the heart of my article.
As the downtown influx of people continues, and with the need for more services to support the growing population, can Lexington Co-op expand to second location? Globe Market has recently done so successfully, and it appears Washington Market is about to do the same. Iim aware there needs to be a critical mass of people in an area to support the viability of retail services. And Iim aware that people may think the downtown is not yet ready for two new downtown markets. But given that the resurgent housing development are diffusely spread out throughout the downtown, couldnit each market be located sufficiently distant from each other, yet close enough to new housing neighborhoods to warrant their mutual successes?