Community embraces co-ops

Cooperatives take many forms and are plentiful in Lawrence

7 Cooperative Principles

Cooperatives around the world generally operate under the same seven principles. These principles were adopted by the International Co-operative Alliance in 1995.

  1. Voluntary and open membership

  2. Democratic member control

  3. Members’ economic participation

  4. Autonomy and independence

  5. Education, training and information

  6. Cooperation among cooperatives

  7. Concern for community

— Source: International Co-operative Alliance

Rhys Fife, left, and Cecilia Divine-Devictor play outside the Lawrence Community Nursery School, the second-oldest nursery school cooperative in the country and one of Lawrence’s many co-ops.

Laurie Dale Marshall, director of the Lawrence Community Nursery School, 645 Ala., reads to the children on March 27.

Lawrence Community Nursery School sits at the corner of Seventh and Alabama. The preschool, affectionately called the Little Red School House, is a staple in the neighborhood and the community.

But it’s more than that. It’s the second-oldest cooperative preschool in the nation.

This nursery school has been around since 1948. In the beginning, the LCNS met in church basements. Then, in 1956, members raised enough money to buy a house, and it’s been at the location ever since.

A couple of years ago, the United Nations deemed 2012 the International Year of the Cooperative. According to the Center for Cooperatives, there are almost 30,000 co-ops in the United States that operate 73,000 places of business. Co-ops have a strong presence in Lawrence, even if it isn’t always known. Here’s a look at some of Lawrence’s cooperatives.

University of Kansas Student Housing Association

UKSHA is made up of three student housing cooperatives in Lawrence: the Ad Astra House at 1033 Ky., the Sunflower House at 1406 Tenn., and the Olive House at 1614 Ky.

Aaron Paden, executive director of UKSHA, said each house independently manages itself and works as a group. A benefit of the system is that the houses are democratically run and decisions are made as a group, he said.

“It’s actually students getting together and deciding to run a business together,” Paden said.

He also said that unlike other student housing, the students living in the cooperatives take pride in where they live and treat the space with respect. As a result, the cooperatives rarely present problems to the Oread neighborhood.

However, Paden said, the Ad Astra house did have an issue with a weed ordinance. The house has a garden in the front yard and the students were growing Jerusalem artichokes, which are “beastly looking,” he said. But a weed ordinance seems like a tame complaint for a group of college students.

“In terms of a problem to have with a group of students living together, the fact that their garden is out of control is a preferable problem to have,” he said.

Lawrence Community Nursery School

Laurie Dale Marshall, director of LCNS, 645 Ala., said cooperatives are a way to utilize the skills and talents of its members. Marshall said the beauty of a preschool cooperative is that parents have a desire and willingness to participate in their child’s education.

Before Marshall was director of LCNS, her children attended preschool there. She said it was comforting to know that there were always parents around interacting with her children.

With only four paid employees, Marshall said the preschool relies heavily on cooperative involvement. For example, parents help out at the preschool five to eight times a semester, on average.

“What keeps us going is that cooperative spirit,” Marshall said.

Paden, the director of UKSHA, has two children, both of whom have attended preschool at the LCNS.

“Because it’s cooperatively run,” he said, “the parents get together and kind of decide the tone of the school.”

The Merc, 901 Iowa, is a consumer co-op.

The Merc

The Merc, 901 Iowa, is a consumer co-op, so it is owned by the people who shop there. Rita York, general manager of The Merc, said 56 percent of sales are to owners. There are 5,900 owners, and a share costs $75.

York said The Merc has been a cooperative since 1974. A group of people in Lawrence wanted better and easier access to local foods.

“These people banded together and created something that wasn’t going to happen unless it was through cooperation,” York said. “So I think that’s really cool.”

The Merc also belongs to the National Cooperative Grocery Association, or NCGA, which is a cooperative of cooperatives. This allows the stores to come together and bargain to give their customers better deals on goods.

York said she also values the significance cooperatives play in their communities. One of the seven cooperative principles is concern for community. Each cooperative affects its community in a different way.

“It’s really tailored to the needs for the community,” York said.

Mainstreet Credit Union

Mainstreet Credit Union has been around since 1953, though not always under the same name. According to its website, the cooperative financial institution has only operated under its current name since February 2010. Before, it was the Credit Union of Johnson County. Before that, it was the Johnson County Teachers’ Credit Union. And before that, it was the Northeast Johnson County Teachers’ Credit Union.

In all, Mainstreet serves 16 counties in Kansas and Missouri. In 2005, Mainstreet began serving the entire Kansas City Metropolitan Area.

Its branches in Lawrence, at 1001 E. 23rd Street and 901 Iowa (inside The Merc), opened in 2008 after a merger with Free State Credit Union. Other mergers outside of Johnson County in 2009 led the cooperative to rename the credit union.

According to its website, Mainstreet Credit Union has more than 52,000 members.

Pine Tree, 149 Pinecone Dr., is a membership cooperative just north of 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue.

Pine Tree Townhouses

Pine Tree, 149 Pinecone Dr., is a membership cooperative just north of 23rd Street and Haskell Avenue. According to its website, prospective tenants buy a membership to the cooperative. Rather than rent, members pay a monthly carrying charge.

Living in cooperative townhouses is different from owning or renting a home in a variety of ways. For example, each household votes in the election of a board of directors, which creates policies and community standards. Residents of the cooperative don’t sign mortgages and don’t have a personal liability.

Additionally, if residents have to move, the cooperative may help the resident resell for a small fee. Also, improvements made to the townhouse might be credited and residents can get a return on their investment.

Pine Tree also has a communal garden, playground and community center. However, it does not allow pets.