A Co-op Dozen – Ben Sandel Reflecting on 2011 – Now

Ben Sandel, our first board president, speaking to a crowd at our Grand Opening in 2011. 

Twelve years ago today I was nervous. For six years before that I’d been talking to everyone who would listen about how great it would be if Harrisonburg had its own cooperative grocery store. And now they were going to see for themselves whether it was as good as I’d been telling them it would be. I probably could’ve worried less, because we had (and still have!) Steve Cooke as our General Manager and he had shepherded the store through construction, hiring staff, and pretty much everything else that had to be done to open a new grocery store from scratch. We also had (and still have!) our extraordinary slice of the Shenandoah Valley with all the farmers, producers, bakers, cheese makers, flower growers, artisans and great people who seemed to get that we were trying to create something special.

When our doors first opened Friendly City Food Co-op was part of a wave of new cooperative activity across the US. People wanted businesses that served their needs in ways that were less extractive, kinder, and focused on the needs of the people in the community. And they wanted a really good soup, salad and hot food bar. We got all of that and more! Friendly City Food Co-op is bustling and has made a place in the longstanding cooperative history of our community, alongside Rockingham Co-op (over 100 years old!), Virginia Poultry Growers Cooperative, Shenandoah Valley Electric Co-op, and the many other co-ops and credit unions that keep control and money, in the hands of local folks.  

For me, personally, I now work with co-ops all over to help them open and grow. I also have a son who is one of the great staff people at Friendly City. Creating a new co-op is something a community can be proud of, and I am so happy Friendly City Food Co-op is here and thriving. Go co-op! 

Ben Sandel, first board president of FCFC.