The Swarthmore CO-OP has been a part of the Swarthmore community for over 80 years, and its status as the only grocery store in the ville makes it popular among both residents of the borough and students. The college’s relationship with the CO-OP changed in 2016 when students were able to utilize their OneCard and Swat Points there, but the relationship between the CO-OP and college students has a long history.
The CO-OP is a food cooperative that first opened its doors in 1932. Food cooperatives are distinctive from other grocery stores because they have investors where decisions regarding the production and distribution of its food are chosen by its members. The CO-OP is the third oldest food cooperative in the country.
According to digital marketing intern at the CO-OP Isabel Paynter, the CO-OP’s investors typically purchase 60 shares of the company for $5 each. These investors who have at least $300 of equity in the company have the ability to influence the products carried at the CO-OP. Many of the items the CO-OP carries are considered speciality or local.
“We [the CO-OP] have over 110 local vendors, which means the products we carry are not the type you can buy at Giant or Target. We carry brands that are organic or fit our brand and sometimes that’s why our prices are more expensive,” Paynter said.
For some students, the higher prices at the CO-OP can be a deterrent from buying products there. Leisa Liao ’18, who is on the PPR meal plan that offers $700 in Swat Points, noted that while she likes to use her Swat Points at the CO-OP, she still finds some of the prices expensive.
“This year I’m trying to shop more at the CO-OP because I don’t like eating out as much and I want to learn how to cook. The other week I hosted a dinner party for eight of my friends, and after doing some grocery shopping in Media and at the CO-OP, it ended up being about $200.” Liao said.
Liao also shops at other nearby grocery stores and compares prices to find which products are better to purchase at the CO-OP. She primarily shops at the CO-OP due to its accessibility with the OneCard.
“I only started shopping at the CO-OP once it was on the OneCard. I’ll shop at the CO-OP until I run out of points because you’re using points that you’ve already paid for with your room and board. I wish the OneCard would expand to other grocery stores, like Target or Trader Joe’s, that offer cheaper prices on products,” Liao said.
Though the CO-OP is OneCard-accessible this school year, this summer, rumors erupted about the CO-OP losing its OneCard status. However, these rumors were quelled shortly before students returned to campus.
According to Paynter, the terms and agreements with the college had expired and renegotiations were made. Some of these renegotiations included the elimination of the 5 percent discount off all products for Swarthmore students. Yet Paynter believes that the CO-OP’s new online engagement is more beneficial to students. Raffles, email subscription lists, and contests all give students the opportunity to score new coupons or discounts at the CO-OP.
“I think [having the CO-OP on the OneCard] is a good way for college kids to be a part of the Swarthmore community. Students can benefit from a lot of things that the CO-OP offers that they don’t know about,” Paynter said.
Thomas Dailak ’21, a regular customer at the CO-OP, likes to shop at the CO-OP because of its vicinity to the college.
“I shop at the CO-OP because I like to cook and I need to buy ingredients somewhere. There [is] very limited supply of places where I can do that. For me, coming from New York, the prices [at the CO-OP] are pretty much what I’m used to,” Dailak said.
However, Dailak does believe that easier access to other grocery stores would lower costs for students.
“They [the CO-OP] know they’ve cornered the market on groceries, so I think that the prices would probably adjust as well if more students had other options for [grocery] shopping,” he said.
Though the school offers shuttle service to stores like Target, Giant, and Trader Joe’s, these stores are often less convenient due to the CO-OP’s close proximity to campus and its OneCard accessibility.
While criticisms of the CO-OP’s pricing persist, the CO-OP continues to play a significant role in both the borough and on campus.