Bryant-Central: Three Tries at a Co-op

Seward Co-op’s Friendship store, now under construction on 38th Street and 3rd Avenue, is the third attempt to create a successful food co-op in the Bryant and Central neighborhoods since the Co-ops, Inc. of Minneapolis closed their store in 1969 (see that story here).

Bryant-Central Co-op was started as an outgrowth of the community gardens that radical community organizer Moe Burton spearheaded. Burton, who had been involved in the Socialist Workers Party and the Black Panthers, was drawn to the practicality of the co-op, according to our interview with co-op journalist Craig Cox:

“No one would ever mistake Moe for a hippie.  But I think he liked that service part, and I think it was part of his whole life's arc. That he moved away from that serious revolutionary political stuff, more into a service role. Trying to be more effective. Trying to be more productive.”

Burton was helped in starting the co-op by members of the Co-op Organization, but the relationship soured as the CO tried to assert more control. Stayed tuned later this week for an excerpt from our interview with Gary Cunningham (Moe Burton’s nephew and right-hand man, and now First Spouse of Minneapolis), featuring being on the giving and receiving end of occupation and violence in the Co-op Wars.

According to co-op historian Tom Pierson, “[Bryant-Central] was distinct from the other grocery stores in that it tried to provide conventional food at lower cost. It paid its staff, while other stores generally relied on volunteers and eventually got around to paying their coordinators. Bryant-Central Co-op moved into compensation a lot faster, and it had young people taking some of those jobs so that they could learn skills, but also so they had a summer job or something active where they were earning money, which is something that’s important for young folks. I don’t think that that was the same motivation of the volunteer programs and the coordinator programs of some of the other grocery co-ops. The age of those workers were generally more college students, and at the Bryant-Central you’re definitely going to have instances of youth, folks who were still in high school working at the store.”

Bryant-Central Co-op only lasted until 1978, but in the mid-90s Moe Burton (now going by Ken Meyers) and Craig Cox were part of an unsuccessful effort to start a new co-op in the neighborhood. Neighborhood residents just didn’t have the time and capital to make it happen, and Moe died during the effort (The video above is a piece Radical Roots animator John Akre did for Minneapolis Television at the time).

Cox reflects, “We spent three years working on trying to organize a co-op over there, right where Seward's going to put one in a few months.  Exactly the same place.  So that feels pretty good.  Now, if we were smart back then, we would have gone to Seward or Wedge and said, ‘How about you put a second co-op over here?’”

Now a new co-op will be opening because the capital and expertise accumulated over 43 years by Seward Co-op is being shared with the neighborhood.

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