"Something that has to come": The Arroyo Food Co-op celebrated its opening

Mayor Bogaard (center) at the opening ceremony: "You're at the cutting edge." (Image: -chs)
Green balloons bounced in the afternoon heat, the mayor cut the ribbon with the obligatory oversized scissors, and inside the store shoppers chatted with each other as they stood in line to purchase coffee, kombucha, chocolate and soap. On Saturday the Arroyo Food Co-op celebrated its grand opening with a party. The AFC is the first community-owned store on the east side of Los Angeles and only the second in L.A. county. About 80 people gathered for the party.

Among the visitors was Marilee Valkass from Altadena, who had long been hesitant to join the co-op — the initial investment is $30, the full lifetime membership costs $300 — because she wasn't convinced that the project was financially viable. But the opening party made her rethink her position: What if she helped make the project work? "Maybe I'll get involved and not just throw money at it," she said.

If Valkass joins she'll be one of about 700 members, though only a small percentage participates actively. Originally the idea of an Altadena resident, Patrick Reagan, the AFC has been in the works since 2009. Operational since June, the store is currently open three days a week, and members can pre-order items online. The goal is for the full market to operate seven days a week starting as soon as it is financially feasible.

At the party on Saturday, Mayor Bill Bogaard spoke of the opening of the store as a significant development. "You're at the cutting edge of something that has to come," he said.

Two young people who live across from the store, Liana and John Gamber-Thompson, sounded similarly enthusiastic about the co-op and what it has brought to their patch of Pasadena. Over the course of the year, the couple has been watching volunteers from another local community project, Transition Pasadena, turn a boring strip of Bermuda grass in front of the AFC into a thriving garden with tomatoes and fruit trees. "It just feels like more of a neighborhood," John said. (Not to mention that their baby, Wesley, got to pick one of the first tomatoes in the garden.)

Liana and John joined the cooperative early this year but soon realized that the store was having a hard time coming off the ground. Following the same train of thought as Valkass, they decided to volunteer for the co-op. "We wanted it to succeed," Liana said, "so it made sense to help out." The young woman — she is a post-doc researcher at USC — now lends a hand with the pre-ordering system, while baby Wesley hangs out in the store. "He thinks it's his," Liana said. After a short pause she added: "And it is."

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The Arroyo Food Co-op is located at 494 N Wilson Ave. Store hours are 4-7 p.m. on Tuesdays and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.