“Hi. Can I help you with anything?”

The confessions of a once co-op newbie
By: Jennifer Cassano, Co-op Board Member | 2018-01-02

Hello, members. I wanted to first say that I’m honored to have been elected to this board. Thank you for your votes. It’s funny to think that just a few years ago I was too intimidated to walk into this place, and now I sit at a table reviewing its policies.

Intimidated? Yes, the Co-op can be a scary place for those who aren’t familiar with it. Let me explain.

I remember my first experience. I had just come from work, where I’m in a corporate environment, and was wearing head-to-toe Old Navy office attire. I parked my Toyota Rav-4 in the lot, grabbed the dog-printed reusable bag that I bought at Marshalls, mustered up the courage, and headed toward the doors. Am I going to fit in here?

Walking in, I quickly grabbed a basket and tried to look like I knew what I was doing. I meandered around the aisles closest to the door, trying not to look lost as I browsed through the products in the bulk section. There were nuts and grains in stacked bins, fresh honey, coffee beans, jars and jars of herbs; and that was just the first couple of aisles. I was mesmerized. But then my “first-timer” anxiety kicked in. How do I work this bulk container? Where do I put the fresh honey? Do I weigh these things myself or do they weigh it at the counter? I became overwhelmed so I left the bulk section and wandered into the beauty products.

That was more my speed. I knew a bit about the products they carried so I felt more at ease. Cruelty-free products on every shelf. Local soaps. Biodegradable toothbrushes! And all the products smelled like coconuts and fresh flowers. I was in heaven. So, I put a few of those in my basket, feeling a bit more empowered. Ok, I got this. I’m good. I know a thing or two about cruelty-free, so yes, maybe I do fit in here.

“Can I help you with anything?”

I froze. <i>Is she talking to me? Oh no? Do I look like a newbie? She knows I’m not a member, doesn’t she?</i> I turned to see who was talking.

“Hi. Ummm…no. I’m just looking.”
“Well, let me know if you need anything, I’ll be right over there.”
“Ok, thank you.”

Whew. That was close. I calmed myself and scurried off to the other side of the store where I found an aisle full of pet products. Now this is my area of expertise. They carried good stuff, natural ingredients, grain-free options and reputable brands. I bought the pups some peanut butter cookies and the kitties some salmon canned food and made my way to another section.

As I passed the freezers, I noticed that they sold local meat. Meat? They sell meat here? I thought everyone who shopped at this store was a vegan, or at least vegetarian. I was familiar with the farms so I thought it was great that they supported local businesses. Then I got to the coolers. Oh, my goodness. So much cool stuff! Tofu sausages, honey yogurt, goat’s milk, fresh butter, and pickled veggies galore. I thought about trading in my basket for a cart at that point but I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I had just gotten comfortable and didn’t want to ruin the moment so I stuffed my basket with whatever would fit and headed to the check out.

OK. Here goes nothing!

“Hi, did you find everything you needed?”
“Uh, sure…”
“Are you a member?”
“Well, no. Do I have to be?”
“Oh, no. Anyone can shop at the Co-op, but there are benefits with a membership. Would you like a pamphlet to take home? You can look it over and decide if you’re interested.”
“Yeah, that sounds great. Thank you. I’ll be honest, I was a little intimidated shopping in here. It’s my first time.”
“Well, welcome to the Co-op! And, don’t be! Everyone here can help you with anything you need, just ask.”
“Ok, next time I will!”

And I did. I have a Beagle named Larry who has terrible allergies so about a week later I marched right in, headed to the counter in the back with my list of questions and asked for some help. The staff member was extremely knowledgeable and I have now had Larry on this herbal remedy for years. The next time I shopped at the Co-op I asked about the local honey. They showed me how to operate the dispenser and I bought the refillable glass bear-shaped jar. The time after that I wanted more information on vegetarian diets. The time after that I wanted to start myself and my pets on a probiotic. And each time I went in, I asked questions, got answers from the friendly staff, and bought the products I needed.

I’m not a vegetarian, but I’m heading down that road and the Co-op is making the transition easy. I am not 100% organic, but there are some products I will not settle on and the Co-op always has those items in stock. I can’t afford to buy recycled paper products all the time just yet, but I am striving towards that. I’m almost strictly buying natural, cruelty-free cleaning and beauty products and have been surprised at how long they last and how economical that is for me! The pups eat only grain-free kibble and I’ve been cooking for them more and more with the guidance of my vet and the people at the Co-op. The cats are fussy eaters but I’m able to return and exchange the unopened cans.

The Co-op is a familiar place for most of you. But for many of you, it’s not. And that may prevent you from stopping in or shopping there more often. But please don’t let it. If I wouldn’t have worked up the courage to walk in that day, I wouldn’t be learning from the GM and her staff about the amazing things this cooperative is doing for our city. I wouldn’t feel proud of myself for being a more responsible consumer trying to reduce my carbon footprint. I wouldn’t be supporting local farmers, vendors and small businesses. Larry the Beagle would still be itchy and I’d be tossing out a lot of uneaten cat food. Little by little, I’ve made changes and the Co-op has helped me on the journey towards a healthier life.

So, stop in. Look around. Ask questions. Lean on the staff. You’re new, they know that, and it’s ok to be curious. I hope you check it out. And to the faithful members and shoppers, keep learning, shopping and reaping the benefits of our community gem, the Whole Foods Co-op. See you there! I’ll probably be returning cat food.

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