the co-op’s history
Bloomingfoods was started by folks just like you. In November 1975, our founders received a $30,000 loan from local resident, Kathy Canada, to open a member-owned food cooperative. The group found a vacant two-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, the Board of Directors decided to open a second co-op store in 1991. However, as Bloomington, Indiana University, and Bloomingfoods have grown and changed over the last 40 years, the Kirkwood store has become increasingly challenging to operate sustainably, and we have concluded that it is in the best interest of our organization to temporarily close the doors of this location, while we explore future opportunities and options for that location.
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-owner reception. 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, member-owners approved the change that would require each new 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-owner loan program, and once again owners demonstrated their commitment to the co-op by loaning nearly $60,000. With this support we were able to recover and thrive.
Bloomingfoods Grows: Encore Café and Theater Café
By the late 1990s 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 member-owners four out of five 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. Member-owners 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 Café, on West Sixth Street. Several months later, BCS began operating the Theater Café 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. and the Encore Café was able to be the food production facility for the Kirkwood Store and the Theater Café.
Looking to the Future
The Encore and Theater Cafés 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. In early 2007 we began converting the Encore space into our third grocery store.
Bloomingfoods Near West Side
On July 4th, 2007, Bloomingfoods West opened at 6th and Madison. We spent seven months remodeling the historic building that had previously been the location of the Encore Café. With the support of member-owners and the community, we were able to transform the space into a grocery that would serve the neighborhoods west of downtown. This 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 café or take with you.
Bloomingfoods Ivy Tech Café
Opened on April 22, 2013, Bloomingfoods Ivy Tech is a great example of our work to build strong community partnerships. This Bloomingfoods store, located in the building on Ivy Tech’s main campus, features ready-to-eat food items, including made-to-order sandwiches and paninis, wrapped sandwiches and salads, baked goods, and beverage service that includes coffee, tea, juices, and sodas.
Bloomingfoods and Ivy Tech shared the development costs, and, as part of the partnership, Bloomingfoods has agreed to participate in the educational mission of Ivy-Tech Bloomington by providing staff support to train and educate students in nutrition and other related subjects. For example, we participated in a panel discussion and workshop on food politics at the 2014 O’Bannon Institute for Community Service event.
The Ivy Tech community has demonstrated its support of our café by writing Bloomingfoods Ivy Tech into their 80,000 square feet expansion plans, due for completion in late 2015.