Last night, the Isla Vista Food Cooperative hosted its first Project “We Own It” meeting to mobilize community members to help fund part of the down payment loans on the building the co-op has inhabited for over 30 years.
Although the co-op is secure as a business, with sales continually rising and the current lease still running until December 2013, the co-op community decided it would be best to purchase the property rather than go through the process of moving locations upon termination of the lease. According to Co-op General Manager Melissa Cohen, not only might the store face a significant rental increase under a new owner, but moving locations would separate it from the place it has called home since 1980 and could potentially displace its location from Isla Vista altogether.
Cohen said it would be disappointing to leave the building they have invested so much in making their own.
“We put a lot of energy into this store,” Cohen said. “We invested in the façade improvement a couple of years ago, and so this is our home, and we’d like to stay here.”
Cohen said the community meeting served as a creative way to get students — who make up about 80 percent of the co-op’s customer base — involved in the process of raising money to preserve the current location of the store, which has been a fixture in downtown Isla Vista for decades.
“This is a really big deal,” Cohen said. “Your generation [of students] will have the chance to solidify the business that a generation of you started 40 years ago.”
Cohen said she hopes the co-op will continue being a resource for students for years to come. Not only is the store a “ripple-effect business,” which aims to educate students and consumers on how to be better shoppers and healthier eaters, but Cohen said it also provides campus groups with donations and support.
“We’ve supported art projects, sports teams and dance programs,” Cohen said. “You name it; the co-op has tried to lend its support in one way or another, and we want to make sure that we can do that for the people that are here after you guys leave. This is a really cool opportunity to allow that to happen.”
The crowd that gathered during the meeting included members of the co-op with ownership in the business, people who helped to start it in the 1970s, student groups that previously received help from the store, UCSB students of all years and regular community shoppers.
First-year student Andrew Smith said original storefronts such as the co-op are necessary for preserving the altruistic side of Isla Vista’s culture.
“Co-ops are an essential business model for communities to have because they really support members,” Smith said. “In a sense, it is a really efficient business model because there is not a lot of profit being thrown around. It also totally promotes the concept of healthy eating, and it is all about supporting local farmers and the surrounding area. It is just a great resource and a really valuable asset to the community.”
As the I.V. Food Cooperative is the only consumer-owned co-op in Santa Barbara County, locals drive from different parts of downtown SB to shop at the storefront.
According to community member Kavi Alexander, who has been shopping at the store for over 20 years, the co-op serves a unique purpose not just for I.V. but for residents of the greater Santa Barbara.
“This is a very important service for the community,” Alexander said. “This is a business that is owned by the people who shop here, and it offers quality products. There is nothing else like this in Santa Barbara. The community service alone is worth saving; for health reasons, it is [also] worth saving [since] it raises the consciousness of the people about the food they’re eating.”
According to Cohen, the co-op has been a gathering place for many students over the years for socialization and meeting conductions, and she hopes that it can continue to provide these services.
“You guys blow my mind everyday here, and that’s why I do this work,” Cohen said. “We want to have that patio for you to hang out on for [your] next great idea.”