Bloomingfoods was started by folks just like you. In November 1975, our founders received a $30,000 loan from local resident, Cathy Canada, to open a member-owned food cooperative.
The group found a vacant 2-story limestone garage at 419 East Kirkwood Avenue, a building that was originally a carriage house. Over the next eight months, nearly 150 people contributed to building a grocery store.
When Bloomingfoods opened on July 24, 1976, many community members felt a real sense of ownership. The Bloomingfoods community was vibrant, and in its first year of operation, sales totaled approximately $211,000. By 1990 Bloomingfoods had posted annual sales of $1.3 million and had accumulated $100,000 in the bank.
At this point, it became obvious that the co-op was outgrowing the Kirkwood Store facility. Inadequate parking and two-floor shopping would make it hard to sustain the co-op's growth rate. Then, as now, there was pressure from national chains, and it was believed that we had to respond quickly to preserve and grow our market. Rather than abandoning the original location, however, the Board decided to open a second co-op store.
A Second Store a Bloomingfoods East
Work on a second store began in earnest when a site was identified on East Third Street. The co-op had a nice savings of $100,000, as well as a loan from a local lender. Bloomingfoods set out to convert the building into a grocery store.
On November 1, 1991, Bloomingfoods East opened for business to very positive community and member reaction. Unfortunately, remodeling costs had exceeded estimates and we were counting on strong sales as a counterbalance and although growth was steady, it was slow.
Changes were made in almost all aspects of the co-op's operations, the most significant being the conversion from a fee-based membership system to an ownership-based one. In 1992, members approved the change that would require each member-owner to invest a $90 refundable equity deposit in the co-op. This investment provided the co-op with a base of capital upon which its future could be built.
In 1992, sales doubled to $2.5 million, but we were in our second year of negative profits. The cost of maintaining two stores and meeting our bank debt could not be met by our sales. This is not unusual but we had failed to plan for this situation.
The co-op launched a member loan program, and once again member-owners demonstrated their commitment to the co-op by loaning nearly $60,000. With this support we were able to recover and thrive.
By the late 1990's Bloomingfoods had repaid all of the member-owner loans. A growing interest in natural foods among mainstream shoppers, as well as a reputation for excellent customer service, quality products, and community involvement had resulted in significant growth and financial stability for the co-op.
Patronage rebates were distributed to members 4 out of 5 years, indicating the financial success of the co-op. In all, the focus had shifted from crisis management to longer-term planning and maximizing productivity and internal efficiencies.
In 2002, the co-op took another bold step by expanding once again. Members had long advocated that Bloomingfoods open a restaurant, as well as establish a presence on Bloomington's west side. In May 2002, the co-op purchased the Encore Cafe, on West Sixth Street. Several months later, BCS began operating the Theater Cafe at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater.
The co-op had been facing the need to improve food production capacity for several years. With dramatic growth in our Deli department at the East Store, as well as an increasing demand for catering and special events, we needed to find a way to sustain growth. The Encore Cafe was able to be the food production facility for the Kirkwood Store and the Theater Cafe.
Looking to the Future
The Encore and Theater Cafe were very successful in many ways. We were able to connect with the community, support the arts, and provide healthy and high quality prepared foods at a fair price.
We had dedicated customers and an amazing staff but operating a restaurant that paid fairly, offered benefits to staff, and used high quality and local foods proved unsustainable. Although it contributed to many of our higher values, our Board of Directors determined that it was not financially sustainable to continue operations.
Today we find ourselves with a third grocery store serving neighborhoods in and around downtown.
Our Third Store - Bloomingfoods West
On July 4th, 2007, Bloomingfoods West opened at 6th and Madison. We spent 7 months remodeling the historic building that had previously been the location of the Encore Cafe. With the support of members and the community we were able to transform the space into a grocery that would serve the neighborhoods on the west side of downtown.
Currently, the location offers a full selection of produce and dry grocery as well as a selection of fresh meats and seafood, a cheese section that offers choices from around the world, and ready to eat options you can enjoy in our cafe or take with you. We are excited to see how our newest location grows and changes to better meet the needs of our shoppers.
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