The Boise Co-op has appeared on local "Best Of" lists so often that most people don't have to be reminded of its offerings - artisan beer, exotic spices, elixirs of all kinds, eggs and vegetables produced at farms a bike ride away from its Fort Street home. The story of the co-op's modest origins is less familiar.
A few dozen locals founded the co-op in 1973 as a food-buying club. The philosophy was getting good, bulk food and selling it to members at a discount. The co-op's first home was a back room at the El-Ada community outreach center.
In 1975, the co-op moved to a storefront in Hyde Park, the former home of the Salvation Army. In this era, members had to put in hours at the store to get their member discounts, said Dave Kirkpatrick, a longtime employee. A space on Hill Road, not far from Harrison Boulevard, was the co-op's next stop in 1984.
"This was when everyone decided that the wind had gone out of the sails of the co-op movement," said Kirkpatrick.
He credits then leader Ken Kavanagh with the co-op's shift in philosophy. This was an era when "organic" wasn't yet a buzzword, when "foodie" wasn't yet a movement, when gluten was not public enemy No. 1 and the idea of televised cooking competitions would have seemed like something from "Monty Python." But the co-op was in the right place at the right time, anticipating the community's embrace of food as an art form. The co-op began seeking out products like Italian canned tomatoes and high-end olive oil. Indian spices. Beer and wine. And meat.
The change meant that the co-op lost some members who wanted an all-vegetarian store. Others objected to the co-op selling wine and beer. But the change attracted new members, too.
"Todd Giesler (another longtime employee) got it right," said Kirkpatrick. "We had tie-dye and VW vans in the morning, Versace and Lexuses in the afternoon."
The co-op started in the 1980s to raise money for its building program. Rick Troyer was the first member to invest in the new program. He received card No. 1. The card turns heads when he shops and the checkout person asks for his membership number.
"I usually just hand over my card," he said. "It's more fun to watch their expressions."
Noticing Troyer's card was getting a little tattered, co-op staffers kindly found a plastic sleeve for the relic.
The co-op moved to its current location, the former M&W Market, just north of Downtown, in 1996.
The co-op has more than 22,000 active members. Membership offers certain discounts and the chance to vote on co-op rules, but everyone is welcome to shop.
888 W. Fort St.
Anna Webb: 377-6431