Birth of a Co-op
In 1974, a passionate group of students worked with neighborhood leaders and organized a cooperative food distribution system to provide healthy food to a low-income neighborhood in central Champaign. It was $1 to join. With no store and no staff, Co-op owners would drive a big van up to Wisconsin and load it with organic and farm-direct foods to bring back to the community. Volunteers distributed the food from a church parking lot at Springfield and Wright streets.
From Van to Store
As the awareness of chemical-laden corporate farming practices grew throughout the country, Common Ground’s mission grew. More and more community members became a part of the food Co-op for access to exotic ingredients like tofu, kale and organic brown rice, as well as to support its mission of bringing healthy, reasonably priced food to the C-U community. In 1984, Common Ground opened a tiny (900 square feet) store in an empty room of the basement of the Illinois Disciples Foundation. Equipment was either donated or hand-built by volunteers. The store was staffed by volunteers, had no storefront or sign, and deliveries were unloaded by hand through a basement window.
Common Ground kept growing in number of owners and in sales every year, and all those years of growth necessitated changes. Many community members now relied on Common Ground for their everyday groceries, and though volunteer labor was still an important component of the day-to-day functioning of the store, there was a very real need for leadership and accountability. Common Ground’s Board of Directors began to hire paid staff, and the new staff instituted policies to ensure that the Co-op would stay financially stable. Common Ground began partnerships with a number of local farms during this decade as well, many of which are still thriving today.
The Big Move
Common Ground was at the forefront of efforts to educate the C-U community on the emerging organic standards, fair trade and genetically-modified foods. Common Ground was bursting with products and people. Checkout lines would often take up the whole store, making it hard to shop. It was clear that the Co-op had outgrown its little basement store. In 2005, Co-op owners set the goal of moving out of the basement and into a beautiful, visible storefront location. With the hard work of owners, board and staff, this vision became a reality when Common Ground moved to Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana in 2008. At this time, the Co-op opened its doors to the wider C-U community. Anyone could shop and anyone could join. When the new store opened, new owners and customers flocked to Common Ground faster than anyone could ever have imagined.
A Community Strengthened
Common Ground moved to Lincoln Square Mall with fewer than 10 employees. By 2012, Common Ground employed over 70 staff members, establishing itself as a thriving business and creating jobs in downtown Urbana. Striving to strengthen the local economy and build a more sustainable food system, Common Ground developed dozens of partnerships with local farmers, producers and businesses. Only four years after our historic move, Common Ground’s owners and staff were hard at work on an expansion that tripled the size of the Lincoln Square store, paving the way for these community partnerships to flourish.
Now look what almost 40 years of community ownership, vision, and innovation has created…