Customers take a stake


Story by Emily Albrent, Currents Editor

Eau Claire’s very own Just Local Food is taking a step forward by becoming more of a community-centered business.

Beth Martin, Just Local’s marketing and consumer service coordinator, said they are doing a customer share program as a step toward becoming a more traditional co-op.

“We have always wanted to offer consumer ownership and now we are in a position where we can,” Martin said. “We really are wanting to include our community members and customers.”

The share is $150 and lasts for a lifetime, Martin said. The customer can either pay it all at once or in installments.

Martin said there are many advantages to being a shareholder.

“You get to have a voice in the co-op community, you get to vote for the board of directors, you can help shape the direction of the business,” Martin said.

A shareholder also gets financial benefits as well. They recieve four discount days a year, discounts on case orders and are eligible for patronage refunds during profitable years, Martin said. The shareholder would get a refund back based on the amount of money they spend at the co-op that year.

Martin said about 50 people have bought shares so far. They’re hoping to reach 200 shareholders by the end of this year.

Noel Kroeplin, the store’s operations coordinator, said the more people use the co-op, the more they get back. She also said it is a great way to build community within the Chippewa Valley.

In order to come up with the set number of $150 per share, Kroeplin said they researched and looked at many different co-ops to reach a happy medium in their asking price. Not only do customers benefit from the program, but so does the co-op.

“It’s a way to build equity for the business,” Kroepline said. “It can be used to further make changes to the businesses to better the needs to our customers.”

Kroeplin said when it comes to students buying shares, it’s a great way for them to get involved more in the community, even if it is for only a couple of years.

“I think it’s a personal option,” Kroeplin said. “But if you care about local economies and you want to support local farmers and you like shopping at Just Local Food, I think it’s a deeper way to get involved.”

Hailey Farrell, a senior at UW-Eau Claire, said she would gladly get involved in the customer share program.

“I think I would if I lived closer,” she said. “I think it’s a very good place to shop. It’s so quick and easy and everyone there is so friendly and helpful when you walk in.”

In regards to the cost of $150, Farrell said the price for a college student is right on.

“For a lifetime, that seems cheap,” Farrell said. “If you are really invested in buying local, I think it’s reasonable.”

While some students are willing to invest in the share program, others aren’t too sure if they could part with their money just yet.

Kelsey Freymiller, a senior at Eau Claire, shops at Just Local Food often and hopes one day to purchase a share. For now, it’s not in the cards.

“For students, I think it’s expensive,” Freymiller said. “As it is, it’s a good shopping experience, but I would definitely like to have that opportunity.”

The shareholder program started on Sept. 1 and is planned to continue into the foreseeable future. Regardless if someone buys a share or not, Kroeplin said everyone is welcome to continue shopping at the store.