Harmony Natural Foods Co-op celebrates 45th anniversary
Harmony has grown from a volunteer-run operation to 42 employees and 3,238 members/owners.
BEMIDJI — The small group of people who got Harmony Cooperative Grocery Inc. started 45 years ago had no idea their efforts would lead to today’s 7,500-square-foot store in downtown Bemidji.
“There was no long-term vision, especially where it would end up today in such a classy, all-around business,” said Larry Stember, one of the ad hoc board members involved from Harmony’s beginning. “The goal was to provide natural food in a bulk situation and to move toward a healthier diet. It wasn’t really thought of as a capitalistic enterprise. It was just to serve people with good, quality natural food at a very reasonable price.”
The first store was located in a small building on the southwest corner of Second Street and Beltrami Avenue. In 1978, Harmony moved to the former Baptist church at Eighth Street and Beltrami Avenue. Members of the co-op volunteered to work, unloading trucks, stocking shelves, bagging bulk foods and cleaning.
Harmony moved to its next location at 117 Third St. NW in 1990 and changed its name to Harmony Natural Foods Co-op. In 2011, the store moved to its current location at 302 Irvine Ave. NW.
It has grown from a volunteer-run operation to 42 employees and 3,238 members/owners, according to General Manager Colleen Bakken. She said the cooperative is more than just a store.
“We have an awesome board of directors,” said Bakken, who has worked at Harmony since 1993. “They are looking at community needs that are not being met and how we can address them. That’s what a cooperative does.”
Non-members are welcome to shop at Harmony, and anyone can become an owner by paying a one-time Class A stock investment of $120.
Bakken and Lisa Weiskopf, Harmony's product manager, both agree the move to the current location took the co-op to another level. In addition to the larger retail space, it was able to add a community kitchen and increase the size of its deli.
“When we moved here it kind of propelled us into a different realm of grocery,” said Weiskopf, who has worked at Harmony since 1995.
Bakken added, “I can remember the first day we opened the new store. A lot of people were reminiscing about the old wooden floors and the coziness and the smells (of the former location). And I totally get that. But that first day when we opened, I looked out there and people were shopping, taking their time, they could easily fit in the aisles.”
That hasn’t been lost on long-time members like Larry Stember, who has been a part of Harmony since its inception.
“The new location now is just a huge step up,” he said. “It’s as good or better than many co-ops in the Twin Cities.”
Harmony has been celebrating its 45th anniversary throughout the month of April. Its annual owners’ meeting will be held virtually at 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 24, over Zoom at www.harmonyfoods.coop/ownership. That also will be customer appreciation day at the store.