Maybe you’ve browsed the Bloomingfoods aisles for organic polenta or garlic-and-basil pasta sauce and noticed on the price tags that co-op members are paying less. Or maybe you’ve noticed at the checkout counter that some days members save 5 percent off their whole bill.

Member-only specials and a regular weekly discount day are just part of the rewards of joining the Bloomingfoods co-op, which now has five stores in Bloomington. Buy a share for a one-time fee of $90, and should you ever decide it isn’t worth it, the co-op will buy back your share and refund your money.

“When I’m talking to people and they ask me why should I become a member, my typical response is ‘which is more important to you — the philosophical reasons or the monetary reasons?’” says Steve Stroup, membership director of the Bloomington grocery-and-deli cooperative. “Because you enjoy both.”

The cost of a membership, he points out, is $90 that otherwise you might have sitting in a checking account or being invested in ways you don’t know much about. “This way, the $90 is still yours, but instead of being invested in industrial agriculture or something else you might not agree with, it’s invested in a local business that does a lot to support the community,” says Stroup.

Membership has soared in recent times. In 2006, when the co-op had been in business for about 30 years, it had approximately 4,000 members. Today, that number is above 11,000 — more than one-third of the number of households in the city of Bloomington. The co-op’s newsletter goes out to members in countries as far-flung as Mongolia and the small African nation of Burkina Faso.

The benefits of membership include:

  • A 5 percent discount once a week, plus a monthly “Wild Card” 5-percent-off coupon that can be used anytime during the month.
  • Special discounts on dozens of staples, from lip balm to household cleaner.
  • The possibility of an annual rebate. In profitable years, the Bloomingfoods board can choose to issue a check to each member based on their total purchases in the stores. This has taken place for four years in a row now, says Stroup, with checks ranging from $5 to around $100. “That really resonates with people,” he says, “because they don’t get that from other stores.”

Senior citizens, age 63 and older, get a 5 percent discount, whether they are members or not.