Update: 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.
The 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.