Natural produce business thriving


Cashier Pattie Booth Hodges shares her knowledge with frequent customer Aviva Gold at Common Ground Food Co-op on Thursday. Allison Bulow

By Ebonique Wool

In a town with major companies like Wal-Mart and Meijer, it may be hard to believe that a small, natural food co-op can still attract business. But business is still booming at Common Ground Food Co-op, 160 E. Springfield Ave.

Jacqueline Hannah, general manager of Common Ground, said that the co-op is able to survive among these major competitors because it draws from a different type of clientele. Originally part of the Illinois Disciples Foundation, the store now operates as a separate legal entity and has been in business for 43 years this November.

“It probably affects other organic stores other than us,” Hannah said. “Our sales are up 22 percent from last month.”

In a meeting this Sunday, Common Ground members will vote on the new location of their store for next year. The move will take place during the summer or fall of 2008, and the size of the store will be doubled from 900 square feet to more than 2,000 square feet, Hannah said.

Laura Koritz, University alumna and a Common Ground customer, appreciates the ease of shopping and quality of the food.

“I generally think their food tastes better,” Koritz said. “And I spend less money there than I would if I went to a larger store. I just get the necessities.”

Common Ground offers its customers a diverse selection of goods, from paper towels and deodorant to fresh produce and locally baked breads.

The store also tries to acquire as many products as possible that are locally grown and produced.

“We had 15 percent last year in local products,” Hannah said. “Our goal for this year is 20 percent.”

Foods that cannot be acquired through local means are obtained through United Natural Foods, a natural food distributor.

“I like supporting the local food economy,” Koritz said.

Supporting local farmers is one of the benefits customers say they gain by shopping at Common Ground.

“When you join the co-op you buy shares in the company,” said Gladys Caolo, grocery manager for Common Ground. “In being an owner of the company you get to vote on the board member and major decisions.”

The fee to join is $30 a person and may be refunded if one chooses to stop shopping at Common Ground.

The variety of people who come to the store are interested in eating good and local foods and value this aspect of the community, Caolo said.

“When you’re investing in a co-op, you’re investing in your community,” Hannah said. “And by investing in Common Ground, you’re kind of changing the world.”