The Past and Present
Nothing makes people, and businesses, more nostalgic than birthdays. This week, we are not only celebrating our 9th year as part of the Laramie Downtown community, we are also celebrating the journey that has brought us here and the possibilities ahead for how it will continue.
Around the beginning of 2007, the Medicine Bow Deli and Natural Food store had closed and a group of Laramie community members, aka, the Merry Band of Co-conspirators, started formulating a plan to start a co-op in the space. They were driven by their passion to bring healthy, local food options to Laramie. They volunteered their time and energy to the cause and raised $30,000 by selling memberships and prepaid food dollars to the community. By mid July of 2007 they were ready to hire a manager.
Marla Petersen, the general manager, tells the story of how she was having a rough day at her at her previous job and had seen an ad in the local paper for a GM for Big Hollow Food Co-op. On a whim she threw her name into the hat…and the rest is history.
They were lucky. There was a building and some shelves, coolers and freezers, thanks to a very supportive landlord, Karen Voight. However, there was no food to stock the shelves, no employees, no cash flow. Once Marla came on board, their goal was to get the store opened in a month. Yeah, a month.
Marla, raised in Lander, has a degree in nutrition from UW and had previously owned several businesses. She had always wanted to work in a health-based, community-based business, but never really envisioned being faced with building that place from the ground up. So she got to work! She hired a few people to help, started contacting suppliers, and began educating herself and others on what a Cooperative even is. And, it happened, on September 19th, 2007 Big Hollow Food Coop opened its doors! But, as Marla seriously and enthusiastically points out, it wasn’t just because of her or the small group that got the idea rolling, it was unequivocally the Laramie community that made it happen.
“I have always believed this place is magic”, Marla states with a huge smile on her face. When Big Hollow opened, we already had 500 members. These are people that took a chance on buying into a store that didn’t even exist yet. With the faith and support of the larger community the continued growth of the Coop seemed synergistic. Things just kept falling into place, even the weather. During the first winter open, it seemed every weekend when most families planned a trip to Whole Foods in Fort Collins, there was a blizzard that would bring more folks into the store. As the community support grew so did the variety of items on the shelves, and today, 9 years later, we have a store bursting with fresh, local food, a wide variety of organic and specialty food items, and a community that continues to bring magic to the store daily. Big Hollow has gone from idea to an exemplary model that other Wyoming communities strive for (check it out).
The synergy and magic doesn’t end there. The Laramie’s Downtown and larger community are continuing to grow Big Hollow with more great ideas and passion for what opportunities and options they want this town to offer. Earlier this year Big Hollow was approached by the Laramie Main Street Alliance to expand into a building that they were submitting grant funds for. The building would be located on 2nd street, between Jeffrey’s and the Cowboy Bar, right behind the current location. The project would give Big Hollow a chance to double its floor space and design an efficient floorplan. It is a perfect match since we have been looking for ways to expand for several years, but staying in or close to our current location was very important to the membership. Since the Coop not only provides a much desired grocery option to Laramie, but also is an intrinsic part of a thriving downtown, and is solely a community-based business, it is a really positive proposal. So, this week, we celebrate all that has come before AND the magic that YOU help create now and for the future!
Happy Birthday Big Hollow and thanks to YOU for shopping at and supporting local businesses that help make Laramie a beautiful place to be.