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River Falls co-op marks 40th anniversary

Main Street store Whole Earth Grocery will be hosting a grand re-opening this weekend to showcase their products and new exterior/interior. Pictured from left: Abbie Williams, store tender; Rita Kozak, president of the Whole Earth Grocery board and grocery buyer; Erynn Delahousaye, general manager. <i>Jillian Dexheimer photo</i>

In 1972, bell bottoms were all the rage, Mark Spitz won seven gold medals at the Munich Olympics, Nixon was president and a group of 40 people got together, bought $800 worth of inventory and opened Whole Earth Grocery in downtown River Falls.

According to the Whole Earth Grocery website,, the first meeting for the co-op was a potluck supper on a back porch.

A quote on the website by early Whole Earth member and coordinator Keith Kozub summed up the start of the co-op:

"Although there had been a buying club and a privately owned natural food store in River Falls, a consumer food co-op seemed like a good idea, practically and philosophically."

In the beginning the co-op was staffed by volunteers and sold bulk items -- people brought in their own containers, such as mason jars, to make purchases.

The co-op was located on Second Street, followed by a move to Elm Street, then a move to Main Street.

With a new "mall" set to take over its Main Street location, Whole Earth Grocery moved to Walnut Street. In 1992 Whole Earth Grocery relocated to its current location, 126 South Main Street.

Whole Earth Grocery is a member owned natural food cooperative. According to the Whole Earth Grocery board president and grocery buyer Rita Kozak, "Owner-members steer the store."

She went on to say that an elected board represents the member-owners and that the store carries things that member-owners want.

Kozak emphasized that the co-op is open to everyone, member or not: "No membership needed."

To become a member-owner, an individual can buy stock at $80.

This purchase entitles the member-owner to benefits such as monthly specials and discounts as well as a say how the co-op runs and the products it carries.

The co-op looks to cater to the tastes of its member-owners but does have a more "natural" selection of items.

While not everything is organic, the emphasis is on organic and clean, with varied prices. Added Kozak: "We strive for organic and clean products."

Delahousaye emphasized that Whole Earth Grocery prides itself on the sale of local foods. "Some are within a 75-mile radius, and some as close as five miles away," she commented.

To ensure that the co-op is providing members with items they want, purveyors go through a screening. "We have a real intimate relationship with growers," said Delahousaye, "We understand how they are doing business."

Some products that the co-op sells are local produce, bulk flour including wheat flour, gluten free products, local honey and jellies, local milk, local eggs and more.

The store also roasts its own coffee, which it buys directly through a contact who works with the farmers, said Delahousaye.

Customers may notice that the store has an airier, more open feel.

That can be attributed to the new windows facing Main Street, which are similar to the initial facade.

"The original structure had the windows exposed," said Delahousaye.

It took four months for the remodeling that included windows being replaced by energy efficient ones, removing some of the dropped ceiling, upgrade lighting, repainting and more.

Additionally Whole Earth Grocery also changed its logo to reflect a more modern design. "It's more simplified and clean," said Kozak.

For more information about Whole Earth Grocery, visit or call 715-425-7971. Find them on Facebook at "Whole Earth Grocery Cooperative."

Jillian Dexheimer

Jillian Dexheimer has been a copy editor and reporter for the River Falls Journal since 2011. She previously worked for the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. Dexheimer holds a sociology degree from UW-River Falls.