End of an era: Vancouver's last co-op grocery store closing its doors

After nearly 50 years in business, East End Food Co-op announced Tuesday it is shutting its doors for good.

“We don’t have the money to sustain this,” said board member Jacob Larmour.

The Commercial Drive staple launched in 1975, riding a wave of food co-op grocery stores aiming to disrupt the conventional grocery shopping experience, according to Larmour.

“So it was a bunch of people that got together that wanted to get food that was unavailable to them, and they wanted to pool their resources and get more control of their food,” said Larmour.

Although it didn’t have the cash flow to survive, the member-owned shop garnered a loyal following through the years.

“I’m heart-broken,” said Nadia Ashley, a 30-year member. “It’s an institution, it’s a family, it’s like walking into somebody’s living room.”

The co-op started as volunteer-run, eventually adopting a union model. Some employees have worked at the co-op for more than two decades.

“I’m very sad,” said Gus Abato, general manager. “Because we are unique and we are a small group and we’ve been together a long time. We’re all going to miss each other and our suppliers.”

Larmour says the co-op saw a steady decline over the past decade, particularly when the pandemic hit and when more competition moved across the street. However, he says one silver-lining is that the co-op store appears to be a victim of its own success, helping bring organic, bulk and natural foods into the mainstream.

“In some ways, maybe we have fulfilled our mission in that natural foods are mainstream now,” said Larmour. “Perhaps that’s why people aren’t coming here as much.”

Some employees say they hope to one day bring new version of co-ops back to Vancouver.

East-end Food Co-op officially closes its doors on Sunday, May 15.