Frequently Asked Questions Questions about the Paso Food Co-op? Many answers are compiled here. However, if you cannot find your question, or you have follow-up questions, please feel free to reach out to Contact Us
What is a cooperative business, anyway? “Cooperatives are member-owned, member-governed businesses that operate for the benefit of their members according to common principles agreed upon by the international cooperative community. In co-ops, members pool resources to bring about economic results that are unobtainable by one person alone. Most simply put, a cooperative is a business: • Voluntarily owned by the people who use it, and • Operated for the benefit of its members.” (https://www.ncg.coop/what-co-op)
You may be familiar with some of these local co-ops: SLO Food Co-op- a co-op grocery store in San Luis Obispo--anyone can shop, but member-owners get savings Farm Supply - a farmer owned co-op, local since 1950 Federal Credit Unions - financial co-ops meant to provide low-cost services to their members Miner's ACE and Blake's True Value Hardware Stores - buying co-ops that are owned by local individuals, but the stores band together to buy in bulk Nationally, co-ops are a big deal: Land O' Lakes, REI, Ocean Spray, Blue Diamond Growers (which had a processing plant in Paso Robles in the early 20th century!), and many more.
I love the idea of a co-op in our community! How is this new store going to be different? Because of our unique community-owned business model, with specific focus on local products, the Co-op will be different in several ways. First, the Paso Food Co-op Market is owned by members, who elect a board of directors to represent their interests. Therefore, members have a voice in the operations of the store, the products it carries, and the way the store is run. Second, with the store serving this local area, money stays within the community. Larger chain stores are obligated to send much of their income to other communities to support large warehouses and corporate offices. Finally, with its focus on community, the Co-op supports educational programs and community events, thereby increasing the overall demand for local, healthy, organic, sustainable foods and other grocery products. This focus also encourages a community atmosphere where people understand their own connection to the land, the community, and to each other. This community feel is what often brings people back to Co-ops again and again.
Why should I purchase a membership before the store opens? Because the Co-op is owner-member driven. Commitment from people in the local community is crucial to opening the doors. In order to apply for grants, loans, and recruit investors to this project, we need sizable member numbers to prove there is interest and need in the community. If we don’t have the members before the store opens, the store won’t open. It’s important for the community to step up and acknowledge that they want this store and will support it. See our Join Now page.
How much does it cost to join? Full member-ownership is $300, a one-time cost for lifetime benefits. We also offer payment plans--see our Join Now page for details.
What is membership in the Co-op? What does it get me? No co-op opens magically when it hits a specific number of owner-members, but the more owner-members there are, the easier it is to get the support needed to have a successful community grown cooperative business. When you become an Owner-Member of the Paso Food Co-op, you’re joining a community invested in California’s San Luis Obispo County people, our land, and great food. Joining means that you get to vote on key issues such as what products the Co-op carries, how it’s run, community connections, and what vendors the Co-op supports. As an owner, you may receive dividend shares when the co-op makes a profit. We don’t know exactly what the store will look like yet. However, it’s not unusual for co-ops to offer specials or discounts on certain products or services for members. When the store opens, those specials or perks will be defined.
Can I share my membership? Only one person may be listed as the owner of a share and only that person has the voting privileges. Shopping benefits may be shared with other members of the household. Owner-Members with local businesses have other benefits like Local Bites Event opportunities, free advertising and support.
Will the Co-op take CalFresh/SNAP benefits? At this time, we are planning to proudly accept CalFresh/SNAP benefits (also known as Food Stamps or EBT).
Is there a work requirement? No. Any California resident can join the Co-op with no work shift or volunteer expectation. However, before the store opens, we need volunteers to help grow our membership. Find out how you can participate by visiting our volunteer page.
What will the Co-op store be like? What kinds of things will I be able to buy? If you haven’t been to a cooperative grocery store, you have missed out. Imagine bright welcoming spaces celebrating the community by focusing on selling products from local producers and farmers. Cooperative markets support small producers from all over, cultivating products that are sustainable, often organic or natural, and affordable. However, each co-op is different. While all are focused primarily on supporting their local producers, they follow a viable business model and serve their membership in the capacity that is best needed in the area. The difference is that owner-members make the decisions about the products that are carried instead of corporate bosses. Paso Food Co-op will be open to all for shopping, not just owner-members. We encourage you to look up food co-ops on your travels and stop in so you can see this business model in action.
Where is the PRFC located? The project is in the Owner-Membership Drive Phase. There is currently not a brick and mortar location. Once we reach 500 members things will start to get rolling physically.
When will the store open? Let’s build this together. Join now, tell your family, friends and neighbors. The faster we get to 500, the faster we get a store. No co-op opens magically when it hits a specific number of owner-members, but the more owner-members there are, the easier it is to get the support needed to have a successful community grown cooperative business. This is a community owned grocery store. We aren’t going to a few select investors for financial backing. We are building this one owner-member at a time, and it might take a little longer, but we believe… good things take time.
It seems that it is taking longer than usual to open the co-op grocery store? Is that typical? It does not take longer to open a co-op than other stores. However, the difference with a co-op is that members are a part of the process and are informed about every step. When a large corporation (like a Target or a Wal-Mart) decides to open a store, it can take many years. Several sites are considered and studied; market projections are done again and again.Negotiations with the city or county take place regarding the logistical, economic, and infrastructure support that may be provided. For the most part, the public doesn’t see any of this preliminary work. Instead, they hear the store being announced just shortly before it opens or when they break ground, not realizing that it took several years of work to get to that point.Our Co-op is no different than other stores in this respect. It will take us some time to find the perfect location. It will take time to raise the capital to fund the building of the store. And it will take time to build our membership base to the level we need for opening the store.
Why not just a buying club and start out small so you don’t need as many owners to open? While we admire the established food co-ops that started as buying clubs back in the 1960s and 70s, that particular start-up method does not align with the needs of today’s consumers. Many smaller buying clubs around the country do not grow and many have ended up dissolving. By studying the markets, market studies, and other co-op start-ups (both those that are doing well and those that have failed), we have concluded that working towards a full-service grocery store will be the most successful approach. How will this project be funded? It’s obviously going to take more than owner-membership fees to build and open the store! When we reach 500, we will embark on a building campaign. The goal will be to raise $$ in order to build the store and open the store. That money will be raised through a combination of donations to the Co-op, owner-member loans, and grants. However, we cannot stress enough the importance of owner-membership. The campaign funds will be used for the building, but we have many costs before we break ground, including yearly taxes, post office box fees, general advertising (Yard Signs, postcards, flyers, newspaper ads), advertising for a general manager, legal fees, consulting fees, licensing fees, and other expenses that keep the process moving BEFORE we break ground. These expenses are entirely funded by membership fees.
Who are the people behind the co-op? The co-op is being organized by an amazing group of volunteers. We could always use more! We are depending on the efforts and support of community volunteers to make all decisions, do business planning, grant writing, and develop plans. Do you have a set of skills that you think could benefit the co-op movement? Please contact us!
What is the role of the Board of Directors? Paso Food Co-op is owned by the people in the community. Obviously, having that many owners trying to directly manage a business would be impossible. Instead, the Owner-Members elect a Board of Directors to govern the organization on their behalf. The Board of Directors is responsible for the overall governance of the Co-op. Directors are elected according to the By-Laws. The Board meets once a month, and Board meetings are open to all Member-Owners. Those interested in running for the Board are strongly advised to attend at least one Board meeting to learn more about leadership within the Co-op. An important role of the Board is to hire and oversee the General Manager, who will run the day-to-day operations of the retail store. This will be done several months before the store opens. The Board is also responsible for the long-term vision of the Co-op. Visit the Board of Directors page to learn about our current board members and find more information on how to run for one of these positions Have we answered your questions? Please contact us
How are memberships, pledges and donations spent? Where does my membership money go? Owner-member shares are one piece of the pie in the overall capital it will take to open the store. Membership monies are used to support the growth and viability of the co-op. Currently, the co-op is in full savings mode. We are creating that nest egg of a down payment for our future store. We utilize a volunteer staff and keep costs minimal. Also at this stage in our development, we are pursuing grants to help us achieve our goal of a brick and mortar store in Paso Robles. The more owner-members that have invested their money into the co-op, the more likely we are to receive grant funding. We have used grant funds to produce pamphlets and promotional materials about our co-op, to open a business bank account, to conduct a feasibility study that helps us to organize the business and position it for long-term success and viability.
Can I get my money back? If approved by the board, yes you can. There are stipulations that must be met but the money is refundable/partially refundable in certain situations. We have more specifics in our by-laws. You can always contact us for more information.