ADDRESS: 1007 SE 3rd Street, Corvallis, OR 97333 (South Store) and 2855 NW Grant Avenue, Corvallis, OR 97330 (North Store)
PHONE NUMBER: 541-753-3115 (South Store) and 541-452-3115 (North Store)
OWNERS: 7,906 community members
GENERAL MANAGER: Cindee Lolik
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 42
WHAT THEY SELL: Produce, bulk goods, meats, deli and dairy items, prepared foods, groceries, household and wellness products, gift items, cards
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: The Co-op is community-owned and supports the local community in an amazing number of ways. It has an extensive bulk department (more than 700 products!) and carries a wide selection of organic and locally grown foods.
For those who want to support our local economy, First Alternative Co-op is about as “local” as you can get. Community-owned and operated, offering a treasure trove of locally grown and locally made products, Corvallis’s natural foods co-operative is an award-winning national model. And there’s something for everyone. For those who like to cook, the array of organic and locally grown produce is stunning. If you’d rather pick up a quick bite to eat, the store’s Feast Alternative Café offers a wide variety of delicious prepared foods at very reasonable prices. Want to save money? First Alternative’s bulk section includes hundreds of items from ketchup to locally-produced flour, all at a fraction of the cost of packaged goods. “Anyone can join – Anyone can shop” is First Alternative’s customer-friendly slogan. In celebration of being named the Business of the Week, First Alternative invites readers to check the Eugene Weekly, Gazette-Times and OSU Barometer for special coupon offers.
Cindee, how did First Alternative get started? The Co-op was established in 1970 by about 100 community members and OSU students who were looking for high quality, nutritious foods at the lowest possible prices. First Alternative has grown steadily over the past three decades, changing locations and expanding from one store to two. It’s been an amazing success story. In 2006, we were named the Business of the Year and the Best Grocery Store in Corvallis. In 2010 the Co-op reached over 7,000 owners! I became general manager of First Alternative in January 2011.
What are First Alternative’s basic products and services – and what are your specialties? We do everything from providing a wide range of natural foods, to supporting local vendors, to educating people about food in the community, to being an important source of employment. Our specialties include local products (we started the Local 6 campaign!), bulk foods, organic produce, and the Feast Alternative kitchen. We offer prepared foods that nobody else in town has. If you’re looking for a specialty item, our customer service staff can help you find it – and if it’s not in stock, we’ll place a special order for you.
What does First Alternative do better than anyone else? We seek to be a model for sustainability, ethical business practices, and environmental stewardship. Because we’re community-owned and operated, we do all we can to support the local economy. We support local farmers, local producers, and local service companies. We’re the best source of organic and natural foods in town. And we give back to the community both financially and in the services we provide.
What challenges has the Co-op faced as an independent business? We have more competition than ever before. But we’ve become a better business because of it. Competition makes you stronger! We’ve examined the way we do things. We play to our strengths, like being such a vital part of the community. We listen to our owners and customers.
How do local independents impact our community? The impact of local independents is incredibly positive. Local businesses keep the economy strong, diverse, and vital.
What does the future look like for local independents? The future looks great for local businesses because people are more aware than ever before of what it means to spend their money locally. They are thinking a lot more about the impact of buying products and services from local businesses.
How many people does First Alternative employ? We have 97 full-time and 67 part-time staff.
What inspires you about your work? It’s exciting to go to work every day at a place where you’re part owner of the business. Being a member of the community and working here are intertwined.
What has First Alternative done to model sustainability? We recycle and compost just about everything! Our Recycling Center at the South Store offers the community a way to recycle items that can’t be recycled curbside – things like Styrofoam, batteries, and wine corks. We’ve been composting our unwanted edibles for years and donating food with a shortened shelf life to groups like the Gleaners and Linn Benton Food Share. We’ve just adopted a new policy for packaging that requires our in-house packaging to be compostable or recyclable curbside whenever possible. We have solar panels at both stores and use a 100% electric truck to transport items between stores. And we’re modeling water efficiency for the community with our Three Waters Project. We received the first city permit to collect rainwater and the first city permit to process and use greywater.
Are there other ways First Alternative contributes to the community? We are very committed to making charitable contributions to the community. Through our “Beans for Bags” program, we donate 5 cents to one of our local non-profits every time a customer reuses a bag. Since the project started in 2006, First Alternative has donated more than $78,000 to local organizations and, in the process, we’ve saved 1.5 million bags from entering the waste stream! We also have two donation programs set up for area schools. Customers can choose to “Round-up” their total or give 1% of their total purchase directly to the area school of their choice. We encourage our staff to volunteer with local non-profits, and we are very active in CIBA and the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition.
(Interview and article by Annette Mills – August 26, 2012)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally-owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Community Independent Business Alliance.