Companies that are owned and operated by the people who use its products and services and who benefit from what the company has to offer are known as cooperatives. There are a number of co-ops in the Upstate that operate across all sorts of industries, including agriculture, financial services (such as a credit union), education, grocery and utilities.
How do cooperatives work?
To outsiders, a co-op might look a lot like any other corporation. A grocery store co-op will likely look like your standard Ingles or Publix except the people who are members of the cooperative are likely also working at the co-op. According to the National Cooperative Business Association CLUSA International, some cooperatives limit who can shop there or use their services. In some cases, only members of a cooperative can shop at it. Other cooperatives are open to all but provide special incentives to members, such as a discount on products or services.
Nationally, there are more than 5,500 federally insured credit unions and an estimated 300 to 350 retail cooperatives in the U.S., according to NCBA CLUSA.
Here’s a look at some of the co-ops around the Upstate:
West End Co-op
A one-of-a-kind, community-based rehab employment program that provides a supportive and creative environment for individuals with brain injuries. With a storefront on Augusta Street in Greenville, the West End Co-op offers custom screen printing and embroidery, promotional items, handcrafted jewelry and same-day delivery of its signature Otis Spunkmeyer cookies.
The popular homeschool co-op offers a full day of classes by paid teachers and meets at Grace Church’s Taylors campus. Classes are offered to K4 through high school students. Parents may drop off children, but there is a volunteer requirement.
Based out of Pickens, Blue Ridge Electric was organized on Aug. 14, 1940. The cooperative started operations with 1,680 members inherited from the South Carolina Rural Electrification Authority. Blue Ridge now serves almost 66,000 members with over 6,900 miles of power line and employs 160 workers.
A member-owned electric distribution cooperative serving 59,000 member-owners in Laurens, Greenville, Spartanburg, Anderson, Newberry, Union and Abbeville counties.
A members-only store in Six Mile specializing in organic, natural and allergy-specific foods. According to its website, the co-op stocks its shelves with commonly used bulk items, beverages, produce, prepackaged products, refrigerated and frozen products as well as culinary and medicinal herbs and supplements.
The Swamp Rabbit Cafe and Grocery in Greenville uses and sells goods from over 150 local farms and producers, including all local hormone and antibiotic free meat, local cheeses, Happy Cow milk and Milky Way raw milk, farm-fresh eggs, local and organic produce, local chocolate, crackers, jams and sustainable coffee.