by KRISTEN SENZ
In July 1976, a community buying club set up shop in a carriage house- turned-garage in the alley behind Tracks Records on East Kirkwood. By collectively purchasing fresh food in bulk from local producers and repackaging it for sale, the volunteer-run buying club kept prices low, attracting new members and sowing the seeds of the retail cooperative grocer Bloomingfoods.
Forty-five years later, Bloomingfoods has 13,000 members, more than 100 employees, and annual sales of about $13 million. The member- owned, member-governed cooperative has retained its emphasis on cultivating relationships—with its customers, employees, and suppliers.
“We think about the impact of the products we sell, of employment at the co-op, and of the money we put back into the community,” says co- general manager Phil Phillipy, who has worked at Bloomingfoods for 20 years. “There’s a synergy that develops through all of that.”
To celebrate its 45th birthday on July 23, Bloomingfoods plans to collect and share stories from its past, reflecting on the history of the cooperative and the community responsible for its growth, says Nicholas Blewett, director of marketing, communications, and engagement. Members and other shoppers can expect some promotions, too.
An early Bloomingfoods member and longtime advocate, Dedaimia Whitney says she appreciates the co-op’s continued focus on local, fair, sustainable whole foods. “I believe that the industrial agricultural system we have is seriously flawed, if not broken, and a lot of what people are offered in grocery stores will make them sick,” she says. “For me, buying food is a political act. There are reasons of principle to shop at a co-op, and I think that’s why a lot of people do it.”
Central to its philanthropic endeavors, the Positive Change Roundup Program, which gives shoppers the option to round up the cost of their purchases up to the nearest dollar to benefit local charities and non- profits, has raised more than $490,000 since 2016. With the pandemic’s onset, the co-op prioritized staff and vendors, committing to a safe working environment, retaining all employees, providing free staff meals, and helping suppliers sell more inventory amidst restaurant closures.
Bloomingfoods currently has locations on East 3rd Street, West 6th Street, and at the Ivy Tech Community College–Bloomington campus. The Ivy Tech location remains temporarily closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For more information and store hours, visit bloomingfoods.coop.