EVERETT — Tucked into the corner of Grand Avenue and California Street, the Sno-Isle Food Co-op is the kind of place people discover because they spotted it from the sidewalk or a friend recommended it.
That’s how Everett resident Leah Scates found the grocery store.
The produce aisle — red, green, leafy and plum purple — immediately caught her eye.
“I found it on a walk, and I loved it,” said Scates, who started as a cashier at Sno-Isle five years ago and is now the store’s general manager.
This spring, Sno-Isle will celebrate 25 years in business.
You may have heard that Sno-Isle carries organic fresh and packaged foods, spices, bulk foods, wine and beer, and locally made gifts. But did you know that it donates vegetable trimmings and other produce waste to local farmers? They feed it to their livestock.
An in-store deli offers sandwiches, burritos, smoothies and comfort food such as mac and cheese. There is classroom space for yoga, wine-tasting and other events, although some of those activities have been paused due to COVID-19, Scates said.
Unlike some other businesses, there’s no CEO or president at the helm. Instead, a nine-member board of trustees that’s elected annually is in charge. They ensure that the store is financially stable. Board members — and one seat is reserved for a store employee — run for re-election every year. Co-op members can cast their vote online or duck into a small polling place at the store.
A co-op membership costs $100 but lasts a lifetime. Can’t pay the fee all at once? “You can pay for it all at one time or in as little as $5 increments,” Scates said.
Anyone can shop there — you don’t need a membership — but members, who are considered owners, can take advantage of special sales and discounts on food, wine and other items. Members may also receive a dividend at the the end of the year, Scates said.
Today the co-op has 8,000 member-owners, Scates said.
Nalini Karp lives in Kirkland, but she used to live in Everett. Now whenever Karp is in town, she makes it a point to visit 2804 Grand Ave. “It’s must-come store,” said Karp, who was stocking up on gluten-free oatmeal that she says she can’t find elsewhere.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic ended rain checks and special orders due to supply chain woes, along with live, in-store music, the co-op isn’t standing still.
In the next year or two, the co-op hopes to enlarge the footprint within the building it occupies and add more square footage, Scates said.
(The building that the co-op occupies has its own unique history. During World War II, the Boeing Co. operated an aircraft component assembly plant there.)
“We’ve had a cost estimation done on the expansion project,” Scates said. “We’re really hoping that can be an option for us.”
The additional space would allow Sno-Isle to double its produce section. About a quarter of the store’s fruits and veggies are Washington grown, and more room could bump that up even further.
“We would love to incorporate meat in a fresh meat and seafood counter,” Scates said.
The co-op is a registered B Corporation, a voluntary certification that measures a company’s overall social and environmental performance.
B-Corps are “legally required to consider the impact of their decisions on their workers, customers, suppliers, community and the environment,” according to BCorporation.net, which certifies applicants.
As part of the certification process, the co-op set a goal a few years ago to drastically reduce the amount of waste the store generates.
“Last fiscal year, 93% of our waste was diverted from the landfill,” Scates said.
“We prioritize sustainability, fair treatment of employees and giving back to the community,” Scates said.
Sno-Isle recently raised its starting wage to $15 an hour.
Last year, too, customers rounded up the sales price of their orders under the store’s register roundup program some $9,000. The co-op’s matching funds brought the total to more than $15,000, which was distributed to a dozen nonprofits, including ChildStrive, Housing Hope and Volunteers of America.
It may seem as if the co-op has always been at the corner of Grand and California, but in fact it took a dedicated band of natural food devotees to bring it to life.
In early 1996, customers who’d shopped at Everett’s PCC Community Market store were wondering what to do. That store had closed.
A few months later, 100 of them got together and approved the launch of a new, local co-op. On March 3, 1997, the Sno-Isle Food Co-op opened its doors.
Despite the pandemic’s many challenges, the co-op still draws a gaggle of shoppers, Scates said.
On a recent afternoon, George Caldwell, who is in charge of the store’s produce section, was extolling the flavors of the root vegetables, fall crops, such as rutabagas, parsnips and beets. After that, locally grown cabbage and winter squash would make their annual appearance, he said.
When it comes to fruits and veggies, Caldwell loves ”talking with customers who are very interested in knowing where there produce comes from,” he said.
“I’ve been here almost four years, and I wouldn’t want to work anywhere else,” Caldwell said.
Janice Podsada; email@example.com: 425-339-3097; Twitter: JanicePods