A co-op, in certain references, is a type of store where the customers are the members, and sometimes even the producers. Think food co-op or eating co-op, or REI, or the like.

A co-op, in cerain OTHER references, is a type of internship. RIT, for example, requires that comp-sci majors, along with other majors, have four quarters of co-op before achieving a Bachelor's Degree

I help to manage the finances for the last remaining food co-op on Long Island. This co-op operates a convenience store sized food retail outlet plus a thrift store. Our co-op also provides rehabilitation services for the severly mentally ill and developmentally disabled.

When our co-op says it is "non for profit", we mean it. The revenue from the food and thrift store barely covers minimum business expenses such as the telephone, computer supplies, promotional material, and the salaries of those who work there (excluding the rehabilitation clients.) While a Board of Directors attends to the legal and sophisticated financial operation of the co-op, two bookkeepers keep tabs on the day to day cash flow through the system.

Most food is ordered in bulk, either directly by co-op members or by the store manager. Lots are usually obtained from warehouses that specialize in stocking food cooperatives. Most grocery products are of the "no frills" economy brand variety; there is also a wide selection of vegetarian, vegan, and organic foodstuffs.

Our co-op (barely) thrives on its ability to provide its patrons with rare items not found at the local mass retail supermarket. For example, our store stocks a zillion different types of soy protein, variety not usually found at the A&P. Most members, including board members, use the co-op as a way to supplement their diets with interesting items, find knicknacks in the thrift shop, and congregate around the cash register as if the center of the store was an agora. This, I think, is the most important part of a buying club. Co-ops bring people together who happen to enjoy a good deal on fava beans.

There are a number of student housing cooperatives all over the nation, most notably in Ann Harbor, Michigan (NASCO) and in Berkeley (USCA). These houses, like all co-ops, operate on the we-own-it we-run-it basis with member economic participation democratic (and occasionally egalitarian) government. The housing co-ops manage to stay cheap because all of their labor is done by their members ("workshifts"). Not suprisingly, the co-ops are often centers of vegetarianism, anti-war movements, marijuana smoke and other attributes of hippidom.

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