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Greenbelt’s Co-op Supermarket celebrates! Here’s highlights from its history

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40th Birthday Celebration

Greenbelt’s beloved Co-op Grocery and Pharmacy invites us all to celebrate its 40th Birthday this Sunday, June 2, from 11-1 in Roosevelt Center and in-store, too, with a Local Food Fair! In the Center we can sample foods from great local companies like My Dad’s Chips, Matet’s Kitchen lumpia, Pop’s Praiseworthy kettle corn, and Garden Riot Sorbet, and in the store Denizens Brewery and Brookeville Beer Farm.

And we can buy limited edition Co-op 40th birthday t-shirt or canvas bags, too. Manager Dan Gillotte says in his newsletter, “The more of our merch you buy, the more styles we can make in the future!”

The Long, Storied History of the Store

The store opened in what’s now called Roosevelt Center at the time of Greenbelt’s founding in 1937, and who can these images from those early days in the Library of Congress archive? They were taken between 1937 and 1942, and a search of the word “Greenbelt” yields about 1,600 results, most of which I scrolled through and found shots of the grocery store.

Caption for upper right: “Greenbelt, Maryland. Federal housing project. Paying for purchases at the checking out gate of the cooperative grocery store.”Caption for lower right: “Meat department of cooperative store. Greenbelt, Maryland.”

Caption for photo on the left: “Untitled photo, possibly related to: Greenbelt, Maryland. Federal housing project. Vegetable counter in the cooperative grocery store.” I wonder if it was unusual in Greenbelt’s early days, with its rigid gender roles, to see a dad doing shopping and child care.

These photos have captions like “Untitled photo, possibly related to: Greenbelt, Maryland. Interior of the Greenbelt variety store, a cooperative where garden tools, seeds, kitchen utensils, clothes, etc. are sold.” Is that referring to the grocery store or what used to be a  Woolworth’s and is now a Mini-Mart?
In Roosevelt Center. Caption for lower right: “Buying Christmas trees in shopping district of Greenbelt, Maryland.”


The Co-op expanded to include several grocery stores and gas stations throughout Maryland and even sold Scandinavian modern furniture – possibly because its small pieces were good fits in our small homes.


My friend Barb Stevens (née Baluch) grew up here and told me about the store’s big fire in 1962, after which she remembers shopping for food in the small basement space while repairs were under way.

From the Greenbelt News Review‘s April 12, 1962 edition I learned that: “The Co-op supermarket in Greenbelt was totally destroyed early Wednesday by a fire which apparently started in the fluorescent fixtures in the ceiling of the store. The fire spread above the false ceiling of the store finally breaking through into the store at the same time it started breaking through the roof.

“Ten fire companies responded to the two-alarm call. There were 17 pumpers, two trucks, three squad cars and 5 ambulances on the scene. Other companies were indirectly involved including some in Montgomery County when they were called on duty to serve as ‘stand-by crews in fire houses vacated by crews sent to Greenbelt.”

The News Review ran this editorial the next week:

Hard Times, and Rescue by the Community
As Gillotte wrote in his newsletter, “Hard times hit the Co-op, and they lost their way, ultimately closing all the stores. BUT, thanks to your forward-thinking friends and neighbors in 1984, cooperation prevailed in Greenbelt!”

That was thanks to “100+ founders getting together to say ‘We Need our Co-Op Grocery Store,’ investing $100 apiece, and working tirelessly to make a deal with the old co-op to start our new independent Co-op! And in early June 1984, Greenbelt Co-op Supermarket & Pharmacy opened its doors “like a phoenix arising from the ashes of Greenbelt Consumer Services. Big thanks to our heroic founders.”

A search in the Greenbelt News Review archives reveals lots more about the hard-times-and-rescue story.

  • The “money-losing operations” like gas stations and grocery stores had been subsidized by the SCAN furniture division, which declined after Scandinavian Design store opened. Konrad Herling called the decision [to end gas stations and grocery stores] a “Save SCAN operation.” (1/2/84.)
  • Tom Cassels represented the committee to preserve the Greenbelt facilities. “The group is interested in continuing some sort of cooperative operation in Greenbelt.” (1/19/84)
  • “A new organization hoping to acquire and operate the four service stations being divested by Greenbelt Cooperative Inc. has been incorporated in Maryland. Calling itself Consumer Services Cooperative, Inc. the group is headed by Thomas J .Martin, a former speaker of the GCI Congress and former member of GCI’s board of directors. Chief operating officer is Robert M. Avedon, manager of the petroleum division for GCI. The new cooperative’s founders believe the four service stations to be a highly viable operation. Present employees of the stations would be retained. (1/26/48.)
  • “Greenbelt Consumers Cooperative is the name selected by the Committee to Preserve Greenbelt’s Co-op facilities at its Feb. 3 meeting. This will be the corporate name in which it will take over and control the assets of the local Co-op food store, pharmacy and service station. The new Co-op expects to take over management and operation of the facilities on April 1. To finance the purchase, Greenbelt Consumer Cooperative plans to raise 20 percent from Co-op members and 80 percent from bank loans, probably from the National Consumer Cooperative Bank. GCC is asking for contributions to help with the organizing expenses, $100 memberships, loans at 6 percent interest and $100 Save Our Co-op Certificates selling for $95, refundable after one year.” (2/9/84.)
  • There was a court injunction of the “move toward divestiture of its food store, pharmacy, and service station operations, and to show cause why further legal remedies should not be ordered. (3/1/84.)
  • Then the temporary injunction was vacated. (3/8/84.)
  • With the headline “New Co-op Approaches Goal,” a story by Jim Cassels reports that “This week Greenbelt Consumer Cooperative reached the $50,000 mark in its drive for membership capital to help it purchase the Co-op supermarket, pharmacy and service station in Greenbelt. Their goal is to raise $60,000 by April 1. Over 400 individuals or couples have joined the new Co-op with cash or by transferring funds from the present Greenbelt Cooperative, Inc. Almost $30,000 has been paid in cash, and more than $20,000 is in transferred funds. The Consumer Cooperative Development Corporation, a wholly-owned subsidiary of the National Consumer Cooperative Bank, is expected to loan GCC a portion of its capital. In addition, the Consumers United Insurance Company will participate in the loan. (3/29/84.)
  • “Transfer of Co-op Store Slated for Sunday, June 3,” also by by Jim Cassels. “If all goes according to plan, ownership of the Co-op Supermarket and Pharmacy will be transferred to the new Greenbelt Consumer Cooperative, Inc. on Sunday, June 3. The store would be closed that day in order to take inventory, and would be open on Monday, June 4 at 9 a.m. under the new owners. The ‘Co-op Is Saved’ celebration will be held a couple of weeks later, in order to allow time for the staff and Co-op members to develop an attractive, appealing event.’ Membership cards in the new Co-op will be at the membership table in the store from Monday on.” (5/31/84.)


Now 40 years later, it’s a great time to celebrate this historic local business, the cooperative spirit very much alive there, and some fine local vendors. See you in Roosevelt Center this Sunday from 11 to 1!

Follow Susan Harris:
Susan started blogging about Greenbelt soon after moving here in 2012, and that blog has grown into this nonprofit community website. She also created and curates the Greenbelt Maryland YouTube channel. In 2021 Susan joined the Board of Directors of Greenbelt Access TV. Retired from garden writing and teaching, she continues to blog weekly at GardenRant.com.

2 Responses

  1. Beth Novick
    | Reply

    Great story. Really enjoyed learning the history of it all.

  2. Kevin W Parker
    | Reply

    My recollection (which may be faulty after all this time) is that when my wife and I moved to the area in 1982, the Co-op consisted of the grocery store, the Southway gas station, and the SCAN furniture store at Greenway Centre roughly where LA Fitness is now. (And I have a tiny bit of pride that our current Co-op member number begins with “12”. You don’t hear many numbers that low at checkout.)

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