West Bank’s North Country Co-op closes

Justin Horwath

The lights in North Country Co-op, the first cooperative grocery store in the Twin Cities, are off for good, as the 37-year-old West Bank store is now closed.

Signs plastered on the glass outside the store, however, still indicate some life. One reads: North Country Co-op is closed/Stay Righteous!

But residents and students alike are expressing regret about the closing of the only grocery store in the area that offered local, organic food.

Standing outside the store Monday afternoon, Mohamed Omer, 29, said it’s disappointing to see the Cedar-Riverside cooperative close.

“Everybody liked it there,” Omer, a resident of the area said, shaking his head. He added that at least 10 to 20 people come into his place of work next door every day and express disappointment in the store’s closing.

Doug Sembla, a member of the board for North Country Co-op, and a secretary in the school of dentistry, said a variety of things led to the decline of North Country.

Sembla cited the economic demographics of the Cedar-Riverside area, lack of funds for possible upgrades and a mounting debt that kept North Country from being financially sustainable.

“We ran out of time,” he said. “North Country had been struggling financially for nearly 20 years. Ultimately it was better to bow out gracefully and be able to pay off everyone we owed than to keep trying again and again various ideas.”

A cooperative is a business voluntarily owned by the people who use it and operated for the benefit of its members, according to the National Cooperative Grocery Association.

Kim Kusnier, a marketing program specialist for the National Cooperative Grocery Association, said with North Country Co-op closed, there are now 14 cooperative grocery stores in the Twin Cities.

The number of cooperative grocery stores, however, is increasing in the Twin Cities, because there are more local food producers opening in the area to serve such stores.

“This is more like an aberration,” she said. “We’re seeing more expansion than anything else.”

Tom Vogel, marketing and member services manager for Seward Co-op, said North Country was one of the great co-op businesses in the Twin Cities.

“We’re kind of in the spirit of co-ops; we’re all saddened that they’re closing,” he said.

With an increase in customers who once relied on North Country for various products, Vogel said Seward Co-op has been ordering new products to make those customers comfortable shopping elsewhere.

“Being cooperatives, we really don’t see it as competing with each other,” Vogel said. “We actually kind of try to help one another out when we can. We’re kind of trying to do that with the displaced members of North Country right now.”

English senior Amanda Steepleton said she only shopped at North Country when it was closing out its inventory. She said despite the price of some of the merchandise, she would have liked to shop at the co-op more often.

“I wasn’t a member, and it was kind of expensive to shop there,” she said. “I would have liked to have gone there more often for some little things.”

Deborah Shroyer’s obituary is still taped to the glass on North Country’s former building. A former journalism student at the University, Shroyer started the store in 1970. She died on Sept. 9, 2007.

“Traditionally, it was a big basket co-op like the other Twin Cities co-ops,” Sembla said. “In the past 10, 15 years, it’s just slowly been turning into more a part of the University community, and an echo of its original form.”