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Save the Isla Vista Food Co-op

Santa Barbara’s New Whole Foods Store Threatens Longtime Healthy Lifestyle Establishment


In the name of all that is healthy, the Isla Vista Food Co-op is not going to condemn Whole Foods.

That is not to say, however, that the longstanding Isla Vista institution—which was founded around 1972 — harbors no animosity towards its new competition. Since it opened in October of last year, Santa Barbara’s Whole Foods has attracted many a customer, many of which were once IV Co-op devotees.

According to the co-op’s manager Melissa Cohen, the rumors regarding a decline a business are true — to a certain extent. Declaring a “14 percent drop in sales” for October 2009, Cohen stressed that, although the co-op took a substantial hit during Whole Food’s first month in business, it has also been “recovering since then, but is not fully recovered.”

Citing both the current economy and suspected decrease in volume among non-Isla Vista residents, Cohen said some cost-saving measures have been put into play, including a reduction in store hours. Plans to implement special sales are also in the works, according to Cohen.

In an effort to remind the community of the co-op’s commitment to healthy, organic, locally-grown food, longtime co-op member Eric Cardenas has started an online Paypal program to raise money for a co-op ad to run in Edible Santa Barbara, which Cohen calls an “amazing publication.”

Asking supporters to “rally in a small gesture for the Isla Vista Food Co-Op,” Cardenas has provided the store with a big opportunity. Since the campaign for the ad started, Cohen attests to “a surge in people who want the IV Co-Op to stay strong.” Echoing that statement, Cardenas says that the campaign for the ad has “generated great amounts of activity,” including a thriving Facebook page and a carpool system designed to make the trip to IV easier for downtown residents.

Crucial, said Cohen, is for the community to know that chain stores do not contribute to the local economy. “We want people to understand that when you support non-local businesses,” she said, “the money leaves the community.”

Such facts are backed up by Santa Barbara County’s Agricultural Production Report from 2008, provided by Cardenas. Explaining the report, Cardenas cites “the multiplier effect,” which is “the impact that a dollar spent locally (on locally-owned businesses) has on the local economy when it generates a chain reaction of economic activity.” According to Cardenas, for every dollar spent at a locally-owned store in Santa Barbara, 45 percent is retained by the community, as opposed to only a 15 percent retention for the same dollar spent a chain store.

Hence the importance — and literal value — of shopping at the co-op, says Cardenas. “[Consumers] can rest assured that the value of their dollar is reverberating throughout the community, more than likely being re-spent (at least in part) within the community.”

Nevertheless unwilling to debase Whole Foods, Cohen attested to the co-op’s convivial spirit. “We welcome them as another option.” Nevertheless loyal, though, Cohen deemed her store an “amazing resource for what we do.” The same can be said of Santa Barbara’s Whole Foods, which “offers tri-county produce and local wines,” says the store’s team leader John Jurey. “We have contributed to the local economy by creating jobs. We all earn and spend within the community. [Whole Foods] is always concerned about our competition and don’t want to put anyone out of business,” Jurey added. “That being said, we are still capitalists and believe that healthy competition spurs everyone to be their best.”

In terms of raising money for the ad, co-op supporters can rest a little bit more reassured as, according to Cardenas, donations have helped. “We’re a little more over halfway there,” he said. Not one to dissuade further aid, Cardenas says that, once the money necessary for the ad has been raised, all additional donations will be funneled 100 percent to the co-op.

To contribute to the Isla Vista Food Co-op ad campaign, please visit this Paypal site.

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