The Westwood Food Cooperative is owned and operated by the neighborhood.

The Westwood Food Cooperative is back after a hiatus of 2 1/2 months. It’s in a new room with more products and more days to serve neighbors who are struggling to feed their families.

The neighborhood grocery store operated in a food desert once occupied a warehouse just down the street from its new location at 3800 Morrison Road. Inside the warehouse at 3738 Morrison that will one day be part of a campus that will be a full-service grocery store which will include Westwood Food Cooperative is currently under construction. The next step for the cooperative will be the grocery store in a few years.

Yuri Bahena poses for a portrait in the Westwood Food Cooperative's new home on Morrison Road, Westwood, April 12, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite)

“I’m very proud of it,” said co-op member Yuri Bahena as she stood at the cash register interviewing a crowd who were trying free tamales, fruit, chocolates and cookies on the big reopening Saturday.

On Friday, Bahena had filled shelves in preparation for the opening. She was involved because the cooperative was just an idea in 2013, a year before it was officially founded. Her clients on Saturday included City Councilor Paul López, who represents West Denver.

“I knew they would open up. I just wanted to come in and buy my groceries, ”said López, adding that he was collecting supplies for arroz con pollo.

He said the cooperative is an example of “responsible community development in which the community is involved.

“Why wait for companies to come in and find us worthy?” he said, referring to supermarket chains. “We have the capacity. We have the models here. “

Inda Vergara, board member of the Westwood Cooperative and community navigator for Re: Vision, goes through a collaboration form with Councilor Paul López on April 13, 2019.  (Donna Bryson / Denverite)

The collaboration began with a pilot, El Mercadito. It now has 335 members who pay either $ 40 per year or $ 200 for life. Those who choose the $ 40 option can pay until they hit $ 200 each year. At this point, they are lifelong members and no longer owe anything. You can buy from the cooperative without becoming a member. However, membership gives you discounts and a say in running the organization.

Bahena said the cooperative served 20 to 25 people a week in its old storage room. Then it was only open Tuesdays and Fridays from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 a.m.

Now we hope we can serve at least 30 people a day. Or more, ”said Bahena.

This is not only due to the fact that the new opening times of the cooperative are Monday to Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 a.m. and Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Bahena hopes the expanded offering will also attract more customers. Thanks to new shelves on an area of ​​800 square meters behind a trendy glass garage door – not much larger than the old one – the cooperative was able to install 120 new items. This includes frozen meat delivered by a farmer in Longmont and other household items such as soaps, dishes, and stationery.

“This is really a big change for us and for our community,” said Bahena. “Lots of people want to buy everything in one store.”

The new home of the Westwood Food Cooperative on Morrison Road, Westwood, April 12, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite)
Cleaning supplies for tables and souls, available from the Westwood Food Cooperative's new home on Morrison Road, Westwood, April 12, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite)
The new home of the Westwood Food Cooperative on Morrison Road, Westwood, April 12, 2019. (Kevin J. Beaty / Denverite)
The Westwood C-Op re-opens on Saturday, April 13, 2019. (Donna Bryson / Denverite)

Jaime Tomas Aguilar, a photographer who was among the buyers on reopening day, said the cooperative was two miles from his home in Villa Park. The nearest grocery store was three miles. Smaller stores, including a 7-11, were closer, but they don’t meet his needs, he said.

“I cannot find the products that are here (in the cooperative) to be vegetable. Still the grass-fed meat, ”he said.

In focus groups with their neighbors, Bahena and other co-op members heard concerns about prices, which are often lower in supermarket chains than the types of corner stores that are similar in size to the co-op.

Bahena said she spends hours looking for product discounts and rebates to keep prices down. During the summer, much of the produce comes from a neighborhood urban farm, which helps keep product prices down, Bahena said.

“We know that it is very, very difficult for families to buy fruits and vegetables because they don’t have the money,” she said.

In addition to supporting her cooperative, Bahena runs a neighborhood entrepreneurship support program that is part of Re: Vision, a nonprofit development organization based in Westwood. Re: Vision runs the municipal farm that supplies the cooperative and has administratively supported the business.

Re: Vision now shares its office space with the store in a renovated body shop. This makes shopping convenient for Bahena, who used to shop at a King Soopers about three kilometers away.