To commemorate our 40th anniversary, filmmaker/member Jill Malouf is collaborating with early member Marci David and others in creating a movie that looks back to our beginnings and our years on Quail Street. We brought you two clips last month and here are two more, with longtime members sharing their stories of the early days of the Co-op. Enjoy!
Tomatoes, Bread, and Coffee
ALAN McCLINTOCK: Our intent was, I recall anyway, that we wanted to have an inner-city site because our heart of market was the city of Albany. And we were hopeful that people from the surrounding neighborhood would come and shop at the store.
GAYLE ANDERSON: It wasn’t so much produce. We didn’t do so much produce out on the street, but I started getting the plants. Quail Street was always, you know, a bunch of hippies in there and everything, and plunk in the middle of this neighborhood, and we would talk a lot about trying to get the neighborhood to come and eat this healthy food and everything.
ALAN: But, it was very funny because people in the neighborhood would literally walk across the street and walk around the store.
GAYLE: But my personal feeling was that it wasn’t until we started putting, like tomato plants, out on the sidewalk, that people even like, thought that they could go in there! It was like a private club or something! (A crowded private club!) A crowded private club! (For people with long hair!) Yeah! And, once we started having this kind of normalcy, this kind of thing that people can relate to, then people started coming in…at least a little bit.
ALAN: Eventually, a bakery opened up right next door to the Quail Street space (oh wow!).
SID FLEISHER/GAYLE: Was it called Bert’s Bakery? Uh, it was named after whatever their religious thing was, wasn’t it? (BaBa’s Bakery) BaBa’s Bakery! Oh yeah! BaBa’s! Yeah!
ALAN: Bert and Barbara were the bakers and for them, bread baking was a sacrament. Not only did they make bread, but they had a, at the time, a healthy snack program for kids that were coming home from school. And the breads were all brown breads. That was part of our food policy at the time, that we would not sell any breads that were white flour breads and Bert and Barbara were really content to make those breads for us.
GAYLE: But the Co-op was pretty darn anti-white flour and, you know, like I say when we had to have a referendum to have coffee…! We didn’t have chocolate…! I mean, you know… (Carob!) (Sighs)… Can you imagine, no like, Rock Hill Bakehouse? I mean like, come on! (Yeah, that’s too white bread!) Yeah! So, all along, we somehow had to ease into these things and things loosened up, like you say being able to eat more things. But, yet, you can still get all the things that were originally there, pretty much. (just in smaller and smaller concentrations and harder and harder to find).
SID: Probably fewer and fewer people that were interested in it, too! (laughter)
GAYLE: There’s more rice than there ever was in the old store. Different kinds, I can tell you that! And yet now, they have some like, white basmati and white whatever the Italian one is (Aborio). Yeah yeah!
MARILYN KAPLAN: Well, that’s like, in the old Co-op on Quail Street. Bob, you can help me with that. The secret there was that even though we had no sugar…? (We had sugar) We had sugar…but you had to know the password! (Laughter) You had to know, when you walked in the door, your storeroom was on the left? Yeah?
BOB LINN: Uh, what?
BOB FULLEM: That’s right!
BOB LINN: It depends…it depends what year!
MARILYN: Yeah, it does depend.
BOB FULLEM: It did move.
BOB LINN: We had sugar? Wait a minute…
MARILYN: Only if it was on that shelf!
BOB FULLEM: Only if you knew the password!
BOB FULLEM: I remember Keith Picard’s big goal was to bring in orange juice, ‘cause he liked orange juice a lot. And I think we successfully brought in orange juice!
BOB LINN: I don’t think so…noooo…
BOB FULLEM: Was he unsuccessful with that?
BOB LINN: I don’t remember orange juice back then. It was much later. What I remember, of course, you remember the referendum for coffee.
MARILYN: Oh! The referendum for coffee!
BOB FULLEM: That’s right! Evil coffee!
Quail Street Construction
SID FLEISHER: Not only is organic kind of the product, but the Co-op itself has really been very organic.
ALAN McCLINTOCK: We had our own convention. It wasn’t as though we were embracing the larger business culture.
MARGARET INDERHEES: There was a big tradition of group work parties. This neighborhood being the Mansion neighborhood and there were a lot of people who had purchased houses and were part of the extended Free School community and we had a tradition that we brought to the Co-op of doing these massive work parties and that, you know, you got…they were like barn raisings. And that’s how that store got fitted out.
HOWIE MITTLEMAN: So by the time it was time to build the Co-op it was just, “Well, sure! Why not? We want that kind of food, and they don’t sell it here, we’ll order it.”
SID: It was just this little, dinky, small, one storefront. And over the course of time when we were there, we knocked out a wall, knocked out another wall, knocked out another wall, built a cooler. You know, and it just kinda grew until it just was bursting out. Somebody drew that one t-shirt or something like that, that showed the co-op breaking… (Greg Smith! Greg Smith!).
CHRIS MERCOGLIANO: It was so funky and the rent was, like…($190 a month), almost nothing. We had to do everything! There was no plumbing. We put the plumbing in and you built the counters.
HOWIE: Yeah, we had a lot of people working on it.
CHRIS: We completely started from scratch. It was a rat hole when we got it.
HOWIE: Building bins. Trying to fake a walk-in cooler.
MICHAEL ROLAND: It was really a mess. I mean, it was like a construction job, completely unorganized.
ALAN: The electrical was like a real puzzle! (Laughter) And maybe even dangerous! And it was that way for…we never thought about the danger!
MARCI DAVID: One of the things they had problems with was the building was so funky, and then the health inspectors showed up, and they discovered…rats.
MICHAEL: An occasional refrain during that work would be, ”So, how are the working conditions here?” And the answer would be, “What working conditions? We have no working conditions!”
BOB FULLEM: I remember driving with Nancy to Amherst, to Rising Sun Food Co-op, who was upgrading to that nice new co-op they were building with, like a really nice freezer and all, and it had drains in it and so forth. And we were getting for free, their old barrels (barrels, yeah!), for bulk goods. We piled them all into, you know, smaller barrels, like this height and so forth. We piled them all into my orange van, my Econoline, and Nancy and I drove them back to the co-op. It was a huge upgrade to our bulk storage bins!
BOB LINN: See? I can learn things from this! Thank you! Of course, I still have one of those barrels! (Laughter)