Support a Local Business: Glut Food Co-op

cherries.jpgUpdate: More info from Chris Doyle of Glut in the comments. Many of us know that local businesses give back significantly more to our community and local economy than corporate stores. The next step is supporting those businesses. Both East Campus and the Cafritz developers have mentioned including local businesses in their proposed retail mix. But let’s start with one that has served our community for almost 40 years. Nick Francis of the Gateway CDC has kindly given us permission to post this piece about Glut.

Some people have expressed concern about declining sales at Glut Food Co-op in Mount Rainier. Having worked there for four years during the 1990s, Glut is very dear to my heart. Here are a few things every shopper should know. (Perhaps some of these could become the basis for a new marketing strategy or advertising campaign.)

Glut was founded in 1968 by conscientious objectors to the Viet Nam war. In lieu of military service, they told the judge, they would bring “good food to poor people.” This, remember, was at a time when the cost of food was a much higher percentage of household expenditures than it is today. They helped form buying clubs from all over: MD, DC, VA, even WV. They ran trucks to New York and Pennsylvania, buying everything wholesale. They met in church basements to divvy up the goods. (There are still a few shoppers that date back to those days and the pattern of coming once or twice a month to stock up on large quantities of basic provisions was still still strongly in evidence when I worked there.) Glut quickly outgrew church basements and in 1971 rented a space in Mount Rainier, a place early Glut documents identify only as “the warehouse.” Once people understood what was going on, they asked if Glut would open to the general public, which they did sometime in the early 1970s.

cheeses.jpgThe best prices at Glut now are to be found in the bulk, cheese and herb sections. A thirty-year relationship with a cheese provider from Ohio has earned Glut wholesale prices that are essentially “grandfathered in” resulting in retail prices for basic cheeses that are hard to find elsewhere. The prices per pound on spices and herbs are often 1/5th or 1/10th what you find from McCormick or other national brands. Bulk foods have been the mainstay of Glut’s core business and they have preserved low mark-ups in that department. The last time I checked items in these departments were consistently much cheaper than those of Glut’s competitors, including TPSS, other co-ops and Mom’s.

Glut has a long-standing, deep relationship with one of the best organic produce distribution companies in the region: Tuscarora Organic Growers (TOG). Glut used to provide some local organic farms with workers at harvest-time; in the 1990s they provided start-up funding to launch the distribution business. TOG now works with 20 or so organic family farms from Maryland and Pennsylvania, some Amish. I used to attend their annual tour. Owners and chefs from places like Jaleo’s and Nora’s–restaurants that design menus around the availability of local, in-season, organic produce–were the majority of folks on the bus. TOG produce is delivered to Glut 2 or 3 times a week. When it comes, it is no more than 24 hours out of the field–incredibly fresh–still living. Farm-market fresh, you could say. On the whole, TOG’s produce quality is top-notch. Much better, in my opinion, than the corporate albeit organic stuff flown to us internationally or from across the country that lines the produce cases of “Whole Paycheck” and others. If you check Glut’s produce signs, they mark each item coming from Tuscarora with a small TOG sticker.

Glut is a worker’s collective. The workers own the business and make all of the business decisions. There is no administrative hierarchy.

When Glut uses the slogan “Food for people, not for profit,” they mean it–in the four years I was there, we voted twice to lower mark-ups! There are many more stories to tell, and many more connections between Glut, Mount Rainier and social justice movements in this area. The real historian for most of this is Hyattsville resident Chris Doyle, who you will find stocking the shelves, cutting cheese or running Glut’s register several times a week.–Nick Francis

If you have not been to Glut, now is the time to check it out. Just north of Route 1 on 34th St. (look for the bright orange carrot over the front door), smart shoppers have known for years that Glut offers significant savings on both basics and hard-to-find items. If you live in Mount Rainier, it’s a nice walk on a Saturday. You can restock the fridge or pantry, maybe sip a raspberry soda or eat fresh cherries on the way home.


Filed under Community, Local Economy, Mount Rainier, Retail, Route 1 Corridor

10 responses to “Support a Local Business: Glut Food Co-op

  1. Chris sent this along.
    Thanks for your concern for Glut. Your information is correct. We are in a pinch between falling sales and rising expenses. The staff voted to reduce wages and benefits to try and break even. We anticipated a drop in sales because of the increasing availability of natural foods, but steep increases in health insurance, workmen’s comp ($3,000 to $25,000 a year), and liability insurance caught us off guard.

    While the consensus in retail is that one must “grow or die,” we decided to stick it out in Mt. Rainier. Since 1972, we’ve been in a space that has been continuously operated as a grocery store since the 1930’s. Truth be told, when we were in a financial position to make a move some years ago, we couldn’t find an appropriate local space, and didn’t have the drive or ambition to make the move.

    So we’re here in a neighborhood we love, operating at a scale that works for our style of management, but we have bad parking, a decrepit store, no storeroom in which to properly manage an inventory, and we have to pay higher prices to wholesalers because we’re their smallest customer. So it goes. On the positive side we own the building, are not yet in debt, and have great customers.

    Organics are sometimes too expensive for the staff too (we charge ourselves the same prices we charge you). It’s always a dilemma for us because we want to sell (and buy) cheap food, but we’re acutely aware of how our purchases affect the planet, the workers who produce the food, and the workers who retail it. So we carry a mix of products but in produce its either local or organic. I wouldn’t overlook our produce entirely. Some products, like carrots and lettuce, are almost always competitive with supermarket prices. And we always have transitional or IPM Pennsylvania apples for less than a dollar a pound.

    Nick, thanks for recalling the Glut history for us, and for all your support through the CDC, (which is working on a new façade for Glut and the other folks on our block).

    We like to think the co-op movement of the 70’s played a role in increasing general awareness of food issues, so we welcome all the new choices we have, especially the growth of CSA’s and farmer’s markets. Locally, new choices will increase, especially with the mainstreaming of natural foods in supermarkets and the addition of a Whole Foods in College Park. While we don’t expect to regain lost sales, we do hope to survive as a neighborhood store with a lower sales volume. Managing that transition will be tricky.

    In the past year we have upgraded our produce case and added nut grinders, but have put other equipment upgrades on hold. While we have cut labor hours, we are shifting some hours to extra clean-up, and hope to refurbish our bulk section soon. We also hope to increase our local advertising. In fact, if there are any graphics people who could help us out with that in exchange for food credit or Anacostia Hours, please let me know.

    Thanks for all your supportive comments,

  2. I love Glut and will continue, as always, to support it. Has Glut every considered a membership fee? It’s my understanding that the Takoma Park Co-Op has a membership fee ($100 for a lifetime membership or $? yearly). Then, once or twice a year members get an additional 5% off purchases. I would think that a quick influx of cash (I know at least 10 people would purchase lifetime mebership, which would be $1,000!) could help keep Glut going in the right direction. If some of that money was put into advertising/upgrading, it would really payoff I would think.

    Another way to save money is to NOT offer anybags. Paper or plastic. Instead, you would have your reusable Glut bags that could be purchased. This is the way to get people to stop using evil plastic bags and just as resource draining paper bags.


  3. Thanks for the input Jim. We started as a member co-op and evolved into a woker co-op. Who knows, we may end up coming full circle.
    We also started with a no bag policy, Then started charging for bags, and now give them away. Both of these topics will be on the agenda of our next staff meeting. Chris

  4. Sandra Eichbaum

    I have shopped at Glut since I moved to this area in 1972 appreciating Glut’s commitment to organics and fair pricing. I’m all for a bag charge. While appreciating Glut’s funky style, I think Glut should analyse itself. Has funky crossed the line and become an excuse for disorganization? Some suggestions. I would like Glut to improve walkability through aisles and to promptly restock bins and produce. Reduce clutter. If Glut is going to attract more customers, it will have to redesign its check out counters as the current system is pretty tight. Advertise! At least a sign viewable to passing cars highlighting local “in season” produce and other specials. Glut is a neighborhood institution. I wish it continued success.

  5. Greg

    I was introduced to Glut Food by Food and Friends when I took a cooking class for people with HIV. My boss and I at the time took the class as a learning experience and we took a driving trip to Glut Food to do some shopping. I really like the store, but do not live near it. Since reading that Glut is suffering a bit financially, I do plan to get there more often. I do however remember it appearing a bit cluttered in the store. So I must agree with the one post I read about Glut mayb be in need of a bit of a clean up to make it more appealing to the general public. How about a suggestion box?

  6. Greg

    I need to correct my post. The class was learning to cook for people living with HIV. Learned to cook higher protein foods. I remember we bought some good tofu. And of course did some shopping of our own.

  7. Jerron Wesleyq

    Have been a customer at Glut for years and recently volunteered there – love the idea, the execution and the atmosphere. Definitely support charging people for bags or having Glut sell reusable tote bags, etc.

  8. William Haskett

    You may have heard that I am doing a history of MR, andI’d like to incorporate as an important part of it the history of GLUT. It is surely possible that one part of the present crisis/depression might be a return to a greater tolerance for cooperative elements of a family’s budget. Something like this was true in the depression of the 1930s, where choice was assisted by necessity. I have wondered if MR in general, or GLUT itself might make some sense of the nearly4/5 of MR’s population lives in the ethnically -diverse apartment houses. I canthink of some ways in which this might be done—van-carried methods of reaching them; ethnic foods and even restaurants in the closed or abandoned store-fronts; and other things that those who know the area much better than I do can think of for themselves—and I am interested in how all of this would create, perhaps, a new history for a small city. wh

  9. William Haskett

    I should have included outdoor and week-end markets for farm products (but also for other things) closer to the apartment majority than the city ‘sfocus on RIA and 34th. st. wh

  10. Pingback: DC: The Glut Food Coop « Vegetarian Food Porn

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s