GreenTree Co-op celebrates 1-year in new location, continuing tradition of community-building

It’s been a little over a year since GreenTree Co-op Market moved to its new location on Broadway Street in downtown Mt. Pleasant. According to general manager, Sarah Christensen, the new retail space has been a win for everyone involved.

"Our increased visibility helps lift up the visibility of our local farmers and producers even more,” Christensen says. “So that’s been fun to see and plan with them increasing products and inventory.”

The new location features 10,000 square feet of space and includes a community-favorite “hot bar” and salad bar, fresh sushi each day, baked goods, spreads, and sandwiches. Shoppers can also find a variety of big-name health and wellness brands, as well as organic local produce.

(Photo: Courtney Jerome/Epicenter)GreenTree Co-op Market was founded 51 years ago. According to their website, the venture initially began as a collaborative effort to order vegetables from a farmer’s market in Grand Rapids. In the late 1970s, they were known as The Mount Pleasant Food Co-op when they moved to a small building on Franklin Street. In the early 1990s, their name was changed to GreenTree.

Christensen has a long history with GreenTree, beginning as a volunteer with the organization back in 2003 after moving to the Mt. Pleasant area. 

She says that in 2012, the organization conducted a local market study with the idea of desperately needed expansion from the Franklin Street location. They finally landed in partnership with Michigan Community Capital, a non-profit Michigan developer. Soon, GreenTree became the anchor tenant for a new building under construction on Broadway Street.

Today, the building also features Broadway Lofts apartments and living spaces. Isabella Community Credit Union plans to open a branch within the building as well.

(Photo: Courtney Jerome/Epicenter)As the general manager of GreenTree Co-op, Christensen believes that co-ops are an important part of building up the economic community at large.

“As a workplace, I think they provide an employer that’s committed to building good relationships with employees and aligning with greater values than just the bottom line,” she says. “So, a concern for employees, a concern for our community, and we have a goal of being an exemplary employer.”

Christensen says co-ops also tend to stay in their communities through lean times.

“Unlike other grocery stores, co-ops don’t close or leave a community when they have a rough year, or a rough couple of quarters, or they don’t make enough money. It’s not why we’re here,” she says. 

“And so I think the longevity and the stability that a co-op can provide to a community—in terms of groceries, in terms of employment—is really special.”

(Photo: Courtney Jerome/Epicenter)Today, as they celebrate a year in their new location, things continue to look promising for GreenTree Co-op Market. Christensen says the store saw over 600 new owners join its roster in 2022. 

“We’re a community-owned grocery store,” she explains. “And that means anybody can become an owner by purchasing a share. A share is $210, but most people pay $30 a year over 7 years, and that gets you a variety of benefits like at the checkout and throughout the store—but then it also gives you the opportunity to vote for and elect or run for the board of directors.”

But membership isn’t required to visit the store.

“People are sometimes confused that ‘you have to be a member to shop’ or ‘you have to volunteer to be a member,’” Christensen says. “That may have been true for some co-ops in parts of history, but that’s not true for us. We’re open, and anyone is welcome to shop here.”

(Photo: Courtney Jerome/Epicenter)Looking forward, Christensen says that 2023 will be all about continued improvement in the new retail space. She and her staff will also continue looking to the future.

“We’re really at a place where we’re kind of looking at our next vision in terms of strategic planning and what might be next for the co-op,” she says. 

“I think we’ll continue to see collaboration with other co-ops across the state of Michigan and the country because it’s necessary in the state, where we are economically,” Christensen adds.

“With increased prices, food costs going up, and labor costs going up, finding ways to be more efficient operators is going to be necessary, and I think working together to gain those efficiencies is what we’ll be doing.”

However, the heart of GreenTree’s mission will continue to be its long-standing history of building community in the Mt. Pleasant area.

“Having a friendly and caring staff is really the most important part of the vibe that we had at the old store and continues here,” Christensen says. 

“Our cashiers and staff know so many people’s names and remember the foods they like or their favorite soup or what their kids are into,” she continues. “So, I think that helps build the sense of community that we had at the old store, and it has expanded it to even more people in Mt. Pleasant.”

Read more articles by Sarah R. Adams.

Sarah R. Adams is an award-winning multimedia producer and writer with over 20 years of experience. She has also designed and taught multimedia and communication courses for university students, as well as media relations and marketing seminars for clients she coaches across the United States. In 2020, she began work on a doctorate and is now concentrating on dissertation research in educational technology and new literacies while working as a freelance writer, editor, and adjunct college instructor. When she has some downtime, Sarah loves reading, cooking, and swimming—as well as hanging out with friends, family, and her fiancé at home with two giant cats.