Community
January 15, 2021
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Community Market - For the people by the people

  • The Community Market in Sebastopol features, among other things, a "Hot Bar" where they serve Thanksgiving dinner. They recently received approval to accept food-stamps to cover the costs of the many delectable entrees. Photo by Robert Grant

  • Brandon McCapes worked the Garden Tap Room & Cafe at the Sebastopol Community Market Saturday, November 21, 2020. Photo by Robert Grant

By: Patrick Norton
November 27, 2020

We live a food centric existence. For some food is a means to an end. For others food is the hub around which our lives revolve. For the team at Community Market providing natural and organic foods is a daily exercise of shared values. Community Market is a non-profit endeavor that evolved from a small natural foods co-op that took shape in 1975. 

The original version of the Community Market was a natural foods warehouse and distributorship that operated out of a house on Morgan Street in Santa Rosa. Dubbed The Country People’s Warehouse and Santa Rosa Community Market, the warehouse and market opened in response to a growing need. After Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1926, and the summer of love in 1967 a budding awareness accompanied the associated environmental movement.  There was increased concern regarding synthetic pesticides, fertilizers and additives in foods. Therefore more people were looking for access to natural and organic foods. The Country People’s Warehouse and Santa Rosa Market were born to meet that need. It began with likeminded people pulling resources to gain access to natural and organic foods that were far from becoming mainstream. The Country People’s Warehouse and Santa Rosa Community Market spawned several other natural foods endeavors under the collective umbrella of the Red Clover Worker’s Brigade. However, by 1987 Santa Rosa Community Market was the last enduring venture in its original form. 

From the get-go the Community Market was worker run and continues to be today. Community Market’s General Manager and Board of Directors make the decisions that drive the direction of the business. Members of the Board of Directors are employees who are voted into the role. Therefore, it is the standards and principles of the team and input from patrons that form the markets guiding principles. Being a worker run non-profit, proceeds are re-invested into the community in the form of education, donations, discounts and services. A successful business model, the Community Market has expanded twice. In the 1990s awareness grew and healthy shopping started to enter the mainstream. Community Market responded by upsizing into their flagship Mendocino Avenue store in Santa Rosa. The second expansion came in 2013 with the opening of their newest creation in The Barlow of Sebastopol.  According to Community Market’s Lisa Waltenspiel, “It was a natural move. Many of our customers are from the West County so we had a built-in customer base. Some customers had already been shopping with us in Santa Rosa for decades.” 

It hasn’t all been roses and cheese wheels. Community Market has met several challenges over the last five years. Power outages due to fires and high winds have impacted both the Santa Rosa and Sebastopol locations. “The power outages are hard on perishable goods. We rely on high turn-over. That is to say, frequent shopping and replenishing of produce. Not only do we lose produce, but every time we are down the shelf-life of other perishable goods are reduced as shut-downs cut into best before dates,” comments Waltenspiel.  Margins are already thin due to high overhead, so Community Market has adapted by bringing in refrigerated trucks during outages. Another bad break came in 2019 with the flooding of The Barlow Center. The market was down for weeks after the flood with major losses to inventory and extensive water damage to the building itself. “We are really lucky to have such a loyal and supportive customer base. They really helped us bounce back,” says Waltenspiel. Most recently the pandemic has brought new challenges. Many new policies and procedures have been implemented in response to COVID-19. However there is a more lasting effect of the pandemic that irks not only Waltenspiel, but Community Market shoppers as well. COVID-19 has generated an increase of plastic and packaging. “We were making strides towards a zero-waste initiative. Since COVID hit, it’s been difficult to make any headway there,” remarks Waltenspeil. However, Community Market will be starting a service-based pilot program in its bulk section soon. The program strives to reinvigorate the zero-waste initiative. Another creative adaptation to Covid-19, Community Market is also providing a personal shopping service at both locations. Simply place your order online or over the phone and pick up your groceries when they are ready. For the Sebastopol location call, 707-407-4020 and pick-up at 6762 Sebastopol Ave. For the Santa Rosa location call 707-546-1806 and pick up at 1899 Mendocino Ave.

Despite the hardships the market has faced over the past few years it continues to live its values and serve its customers. In Sebastopol, The Garden Café and Taproom is open with take-away or to-go options. The Garden Café is a full-service espresso bar and deli complete with pizza ovens. The café is currently offering a wide selection of pre-packaged grab and go meals with 100 percent organic produce. This holiday season there will be prefab meals offered through the first of the year. The menu can be found online at www.cmnaturalfoods.com. To complement the Café, the Taproom offers a broad array of local craft beers, ciders, kombuchas and kvass. There is outdoor seating where you can enjoy your selections. In addition, seniors receive a ten percent discount on Wednesdays and Sundays. Staying true to its values, Community Market continues its thoughtful approach to make your shopping experience easy on you and easy on the planet.