A co-op store is a store which is owned and controlled by members of a cooperative, rather than a single store-owner or corporate entity. The cooperative tradition dates back to the 1700s in Great Britain, when workers began organizing in cooperatives in an attempt to get around usurious prices for basic goods, housing, and other services. Today, cooperative stores can be found all over the world, and some of these stores are extremely successful business entities.
The idea behind a co-op store is that it works for its members, rather than being an engine of profit. Because no profits are expected, the store can keep wages high and costs low, allowing members of the cooperative to benefit. Co-ops can sell things like groceries, books, and a variety of other consumer goods, and the cooperative concept can also be used in housing, banking, and a variety of other industries.
In a cooperative store, the members of the co-op vote on issues of importance to the store as a collective, rather than allowing one person to make decisions. Members might vote for a wage raise, additional benefits to employees, or the use of a new supplier. Some co-ops also use voting to pass resolutions donating funds to local charities. Many also encourage members to volunteer in the store, or in the local community, with the goal of fostering a positive relationship with the surrounding community, and community events, classes, and meetings may be held to bolster community relations.
There are two basic ways in which a co-op store can work. In a worker-owned cooperative, the employees of the store own the store, typically being given shares in proportion to how many years they have worked in the store. Some stores offer dividends to their employees, while others provide set wages and benefits, sinking any excess profit into store improvements. A store may also be run in conjunction with another organization such as a university or political group, in which case profit will be turned over to the parent organization.
A co-op store may also allow individual members of the public to buy membership shares, thereby joining the co-op. In this case, both workers and shoppers control shares, although non-members are usually also allowed to shop at the store. Members typically get access to special rates on goods in addition to voting rights in the cooperative.