By Alexa Huffman
Smart shoppers can find a second home at Karma Co-op (739 Palmerston Ave.). The non-profit food co-operative is celebrating 40th anniversary and is eager to share its success.
Amy Andre, the shop’s general manager, loves being one of the eight employed staff at the store.
“Although I am the manager, I do work for the members,” she said. “The members own the business and the employees serve them.”
With over 1,000 members, the democratically-run co-operative has grown from when it started out of a basement in 1972 to its current incarnation—where the spacious building is fully-owned. The members help out with the costs by paying annual dues.
There are different levels of membership. The first is paying $40 annually, the second is $10 every season and if they put down a $100 loan, there is a discount on annual dues.
“We even have a trial run where anyone can come in and shop for one time,” said Andre. “However, some people just choose to join right away.”
There is a good reason people are drawn to the store that may appear small to some but is filled with plenty of local, fairtrade, and organic products. Andre says there is a sense of conscientiousness in the community. It’s a place for alternatives for people looking for packages, processed foods. They feel good about what they put on the shelves and feel it is not only helping the health of their bodies but also has a positive environmental impact.
“Our jewel in the crown is definitely our produce,” said Andre, speaking with pride while looking around the store. “We have a deep relationship with the local farmers that has taken years to develop.”
There is food for people who care about what they put in their body, Andre describes. There are vegan, vegetarian and gluten free diets among others. There are also classes including nutrition workshops with a registered nutritionist who works at Karma.
“It’s a great community feeling,” said Andre. “We’ve built a good relationship where the customers have come to trust us.”
However, it isn’t just the food that attracts people to the store. There is also a lounge with comfortable wooden benches and chairs, a lending library, kitchen, computers, and Wi-Fi.
“It’s really not like any other store,” said Andre. “You don’t often come down to shop for groceries and sit down to talk to someone you’ve known for 20 years.”
These customers come from all over the Annex. There are students from the nearby University of Toronto, family and retirees. They come for the selection and the price, as Karma has a rigid protocol about how prices are set. The savings are passed to the members where any of the wholesale products bought are only marked above a certain price.
“We don’t do gimmicks,” said Andre. “In the end, it’s a better deal for members who don’t have to worry about a ridiculously overpriced experience.”
With Karma being selected for Doors Open Toronto, which ran May 26 and 27, Andre said this will be a great way to share what Karma is about.
“We have always been a leader in the food movement. We push the envelope. Now the mainstream is catching up and we get to decide what is the next thing for consumers with a conscious.”