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75 years and thriving
As the people of Sequim continue to change, the oldest business in town changes with them.
After 75 years of business, managers for The Co-op Farm and Garden recognize that transitioning from an agricultural cooperative to a consumers cooperative was necessary.
Mike Youngquist, general manager and third-generation Sequim resident, said the focus for an agricultural cooperative was because Sequim had 50 dairy farms at the time.
“But now we have two dairy farms and in the mid-1970s we became a consumer co-op,” he said.
Ambitious dairymen and farmers started the Co-op in August 1936 to bring in affordable supplies not otherwise available to the area.
The Co-op, then formerly Clallam Cooperative Association, sold a little bit of everything, including groceries, appliances, machinery, and grain and feed. But as Sequim residents moved away from farming and developed more land, the Co-op progressively changed, too. In the late 1960s, the Co-op sold its granary, now El Cazador’s building.“Those were the days trains came through but since then the world changed,” Youngquist said. “We’ve tried to change as needs changed.”
Long-time customer Delane Bell recalls the Co-op from the 1960s.
The store entry was on the south side along the highway, he said. Inside, dairy supplies were stacked on boards and planks in dim light. Outside, there were fence posts and several kinds of farm equipment. He and others enjoyed looking at them.
“It was a man’s place to shop,” Bell said.
Few women came in except for parts during hay season and only two women worked there at the time.
He said there was no problem walking through and talking to the mechanics.
“On a rainy day in summer, all the farmers would come to the store and stand around and talk,” Bell said. “We seemed to know every farmer. Now, times have changed, we hardly know anyone anymore. I wish those old days would come back, but guess they never will.”
The Co-op stopped tractor sales and equipment repair in the late 1990s.
One clientele that has benefited from current management is women.
“At some point we realized we were missing out on women customers,” Youngquist said.
Kathy Reid, store manager, said when she started adding more gifts and toys, she got some negative feedback but pushed forward to bring in new people.
“Now there are a lot of women who come in for gifts and lawn garden and everyday things.”
Glenn Juenemann, an employee since 1982 when the Co-op bought Western Farmers, a former competitor, said the customer base has changed a lot.
“It used to be 100 percent farmers but that’s pretty much gone,” Juenemann said. “They didn’t realize at first that if we didn’t make enough changes, we wouldn’t have had enough to pay the light bill.”
Juenemann said the Co-op stays current and caters to a number of people like retirees, mini-farmers, pet owners and gardeners.
“It’s a country type of a lifestyle we play to,” he said, “It’s a good fit.”
Currently, there are more than 3,000 members of the Co-op with about 2,200 active customers.
Membership isn’t needed to shop, but those who sign up are offered stock and cash at the end of the year based on the store’s profits and how much each member spends. A board of directors oversees Youngquist who runs day-to-day operations, but members get to vote on decisions and board members.
Expansion of services
The Co-op expanded significantly in the past 20 years and now has more than 20,000 square feet of space.
Reid said the store continues to add new items, including more clothes like Dickies and Wrangler; they are adding large barbecues again and are adding a display of 71 different kinds of old-time soda.
One surprising seller, Reid said, is saltwater taffy. Since starting sales in fall 2005, they’ve sold nearly 9,000 pounds or 4.5 tons of taffy. She said items like taffy keep the store interesting and keep customers local as opposed to shopping out of town.
“We have a lot of loyal customers,” Reid said. “We do our homework to keep prices competitive and provide excellent customer service.”
Youngquist said they sometimes have a hard time competing price-wise with local competitors.
“When we buy 12 of something and Home Depot buys a box load, who do you think can offer a better deal?” he asks. “We try to compete with superior service and better training of our employees.”
In recent years, the store has invested a lot in computers.
Youngquist said product supply used to be guesswork but now everything is exact and to the minute.
Juenemann said he’s not sure if the Co-op would be here today if they didn’t have the technology.
“Now you can do things with a keystroke you couldn’t do before,” he said.
The 75th anniversary is significant, Youngquist said, and they want to stay fresh with a remodel every seven years. Staff will continue analyzing merchandise to see what is selling and discontinue what does not sell.
“We react to what the market wants,” Youngquist said.
“Pet food is big and sells about $45,000 a month of dog and cat food. I never would have imagined. When I started we had two or three kinds. Now we have more than 30 varieties.”
For more information on The Co-op Farm and Garden, 216 E. Washington St., call 683-4111.
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.