Have you ever thought about owning your own grocery store? At GreenTree Cooperative Grocery, becoming an owner is possible for anyone in the Mt. Pleasant community.
In 1970, a group of like-minded locals banded together to acquire more affordable fresh produce. Back then, members of what would later be named the Mt. Pleasant People’s Food Co-op, pooled their money and took turns making trips to the farmer’s market in Grand Rapids.
Interest was so strong, it wasn't long before membership was strong enough to support a small warehouse and then in 1977, a storefront. The store, run completely by volunteers and occupying only a small portion of the building, was such a success they soon had to hire paid employees. Today, the Co-op, renamed GreenTree Cooperative Grocery in 1991, still resides at the same address. Over the years, it has expanded enough to fill the entire site, adding both a greenhouse and a deli.
GreenTree’s General Manager, Sarah Christensen, has been with the company since 2003 and has watched sales explode during that time. “In 2003, sales were about $500,000 a year and this year, we will do $1.8 million. We’ve grown a lot in the last decade and so have organic sales everywhere," she explained.
Christensen was quick to add that although sales have grown, the co-op’s mission has remained the same: to provide local people with fresh, whole foods at an affordable price. “We now also focus on creating a strong local economy, being an exemplary employer, and embodying environmental stewardship, all while running a financially sound and democratically owned business,” she elaborated.
While GreenTree still offers an array of beautiful, organic local produce, they also showcase a variety of locally sourced meats. In the deli, you can find expertly prepared vegan and gluten-free specialities alongside traditional options. “What sets us apart is our product knowledge, customer service, local offerings, and our economic model," Christensen shared, "We’re owned by 2500 members of our community.”
You don't have to be a member-owner to shop at Greentree, but if you do buy in you'll receive special discounts and coupons. You'll also get to have a say in GreenTree’s future. While not required, owners have the option to attend board meetings, vote in elections, and even run for open seats on the Board of Directors. When GreenTree is profitable, the Board of Directors decides whether or not to return a portion of net profits to its owners. The profits, when distributed, are proportionate to that particular owner’s purchases that year.
So what does it take to become a member? Simply purchase a share for $210 and you’re in. You can even make annual payments of $30 for seven years and if you decide to leave the co-op during that time, you can request your money back.
Either way, the little co-op that could on the outskirts of downtown Mt. Pleasant has no plans to slow its growth. GreenTree currently has plans for the addition of indoor seating, a classroom area for cooking workshops, and a gathering space for members of the community. As Christensen put it, “We continue to thrive because we are an expression of the values that our owners and shoppers hold. Being community-owned means our money stays in the local economy. No one person is accumulating wealth because GreenTree exists. Instead, a whole group of people are sharing in it and reinvesting in it every day.”