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Locally owned businesses work to prove their uniqueness

As the city of Durango moves toward building a road to lure more national chain businesses to Grandview, other efforts are aimed at keeping local businesses locally controlled and profitable.

Perhaps nowhere is the anti-chain backlash clearer than in the case of Durango Natural Foods, a small grocery co-op that dates to 1973. The co-op sells local and organic groceries from its 2,400-square-foot location at 575 East Eighth Ave. that is smaller than many Durango homes. It is the type of place that sells single-origin, fair-trade, shade-grown coffees and bulk granola.

When the co-op’s membership learned of merger discussions with Albuquerque’s La Montanita Food Co-op, they responded with an ongoing attempt to overthrow their seven-person board.

Members met last week to discuss procedures for a recall vote that is likely to be held at a Dec. 3 meeting.

Likewise, a story about the city’s move to build an $8.2 million road in south Durango to lure big-box retailers elicited mainly negative comments from Durango Herald readers.

“No thanks,” one man said.

Durango likes to keep its quirk. The city somehow manages to support a downtown store, Southwest Sound, that primarily sells compact discs, a format whose sales have been falling nationally for years. There also is Maria’s Bookshop, a relative rarity as a locally owned seller of new books.

Several local efforts work to drive sales to locally owned businesses.

Local First is preparing to release the newest edition of its popular Be Local coupon book. The first book, in 2009, sold out its run of 2,000 copies in four weeks. The next printing of Be Local is expected to sell out its run of 4,000 to 4,500 books, said Kristi Streiffert, managing director of Local First.

The book will be released on Noel Night on Dec. 5, another event designed to direct customers to local businesses.

Durango Public Library recently launched a promotion where a library card can be used to receive discounts at more than 60 local businesses and organizations, including restaurants, retailers and service providers.

Streiffert said Durango’s embrace of local ownership is a desire to keep Durango different from Anytown, U.S.A.

“It’s not something you can really measure, but it is keeping our community unique – different than any other community,” she said. “We feel that buying local helps create a healthier environment with less congestion on the roads and more walkable and bikeable communities.”

Streiffert added that locally owned businesses employ more workers per dollar of revenue than national chains do.

For Durango Natural Foods members, the fears of being swallowed up by a larger, far-away organization were real. Members were upset that the board’s plan to merge with La Montanita was so far advanced before members got wind of it, said Pat Blair, who has been involved in the co-op for 40 years. Blair is part of the effort to oust the current board. Having a co-op managed four hours away would be missing the point, she said.

“All decisions would be made out of Albuquerque and we wouldn’t have a local voice,” she said.

Blair said the co-op is financially healthy and should resist a national trend of large co-ops acquiring smaller ones.

“It’s not a real fancy store or anything,” Blair said. “We had real humble beginnings – we’ve had even real humble progress – but it’s still there and people still love it.”

“It’s a service organization,” she added. “It’s a nonprofit. We don’t need to compete with the for-profit corporations. If the members want us, we’ll be there. If not, there’s no reason we need to exist.”

DNF’s board president, Geoff Wolf, said the merger is off the table at this point. He positioned the discussion as one of whether DNF should modernize.

“There isn’t a right or wrong. There isn’t a better or worse,” he said. “How do you define local? What’s your vision for Durango Natural Foods 10 or 20 years from now?

Wolf added, “The current board had a vision that’s very different from the members who have asked for our resignation. The current board is looking forward into the 21st century. The folks who want us to resign are kind of rooted in the past.”


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