Genesee Co-op



Pottery.jpgPottery for Sale 2-2008

A week or two ago I biked downtown to the public library to check out a copy of We Own It: Starting and Managing Cooperatives and Employee-Owned Ventures by Peter Jan Honigsberg et al. As luck would have it, the Dewey Decimal System (a rather odd thing itself) contains an index for "Cooperatives." From this shelf I took an armload of books for triage, and checked out three: We Own It (an excellent handbook on the subject of starting a co-op of pretty much any kind), How to start your own Food Co-Op by Gloria Stern, and Co-op: The people's business (about the European grocery co-op).

How to start your own Food Co-op is a comprehensive book on the indicated subject, outlining the various ways to structure your food co-op and containing various tips for success (such as how to tell if produce is fresh, how to negotiate with a dairy, and how to interpret USDA grading of meats) in addition to giving profiles of several and addresses of many food co-ops in the United States. Altogether the book is very "70's" and the text seems quite dated by, for instance, an insistence on indicating the race ("black" or "white") of the people involved in many of the enterprises listed.

Anyway. At the end of the book there's a list of quite many food co-ops, sorted by state.. Parsing through this I find listed "*Clear Eye and Genesee Co-op; 713 Monroe Avenue; Rochester, New York 14607." Interesting. The asterisk indicates that that particular food co-op is profiled in the text. But there's no indication of where in the text it's mentioned, and, frustratingly, the book lacks an index. Going page-by-page through the book, I found no other mention of this co-op.

Then I googled for "713 Monroe" and suddenly there's a smörgåsbord:

Hmmm. Sounds like something is happening at 713 Monroe Avenue. So I drive out there, and, sure enough, there's an entryway and a staircase labelled Genesee Center for the Arts and Education. On the ground floor there's a huge pottery studio, full of people spinning clay. I wander inside and upstairs, and there's an arrow for the community darkroom. And then there it is, the community darkroom. So it turns out all of this is a sort of craft-center co-op, offering photography courses, a darkroom, pottery courses, and exhibit space. Awesome! I ask someone there about the history of the place, whether there's any connection with Genesee Co-op Federal Credit Union or the Genesee Co-op Natural Foods store. She doesn't know, but there's a newsletter with information. And a postcard invitation to the opening of their third annual Foundations ("Work by the Community Darkroom Monitors") exhibit (reception this Friday, 7-9pm). Wandering home, I know that these "Genesee" co-ops have to be related. There has to be some oral history that will connect everything..

The newsletter directs me to the web page [WWW] for the Genesee Center for Arts, Education, & New Ideas, Inc. Sure enough. And on the web page, there's an interesting history page. An excerpt:

So there we go. The Genesee Co-op spawned off at least a credit union, a natural foods store, and a community arts center that thrive today. (The name "Genesee" is inherited from the original organization, which had been located on Genesee Street.) I am amused by the trail that lead me there.