First Alternative Natural Foods Co-op History

First Alternative was founded in 1970 by a diverse group of concerned citizens and Oregon State University students. They were committed to offering education for people who wanted to adopt healthier lifestyles, and to provide the community with a source of high quality, nutritious foods at the lowest possible prices. To this day, we continue to strive to be a cooperative model, providing natural and organic food in community-oriented stores.

FIRST ALTERNATIVE HISTORY TIMELINE

1969
1969

Starting Out With An Idea

Professor William Denison
The idea for First Alternative Co-op was born: a community-run place to find quality natural foods at an affordable price. Oregon State University Professor William Denison mentored a group of students who helped start the Co-op along with members of the Corvallis community.
1970
1970

First Alternative Co-op Opens

Opening Day
The Co-op first opened its doors to the public on November 23, 1970. Volunteers sold customers bulk foods: beans, rice, flour, nuts, honey, and cheese. This photograph from a Gazette Times article shows opening day at First Alternative, with customers stocking up on dry goods.
1972
1972

Co-op Moves to South Town

South Store in 1976
The Co-op moved to its current South Corvallis location on SE 3rd St. in what used to be a drive-in.
1975
1975

Produce Department Added

Pat Hazleton, Produce Manager in 1970s
In the mid-1970s, fresh produce at the Co-op was sold from a stand outside the building. By 1979, produce moved indoors, becoming part of the store.
1982
1982

Battling Challenges in the Early 1980s

Gail and Dee, doing a demo, early 80s
Unemployment, inflation, and competition from Waremart’s new bulk department flattened growth in this period.
1985
1985

Store Improvements in the 1980s

1985 First Alternative Sign
The Co-op initiated many enhancements in the eighties: exterior signage, advertising, shopping carts, and beer/wine. This photo shows the newly installed exterior sign for the store, installed in 1985.
1992
1992

The Co-op Grows Its Staff

John Lee in front of the Volunteer Wall
Staffing the store with volunteers, as its model had been in the 70s and 80s, often posed big challenges.The Co-op experienced steady growth in the 1990s and transitioned gradually from being a volunteer-based to an employee-based organization.
1999
1999

Restructuring to a Cooperative Business

1990s Staff Photo
In 1999, the Co-op Board, with support of members, voted to restructure from a non-profit corporation to a cooperative business.
2001
2001

Expansion in the New Millenium

South store expansion in 2000
During the early 2000s, the Co-op thrived, adding an in-house kitchen and a meat department. A remodel and expansion at the 3rd St. store included upstairs offices and backstock areas.
2003
2003

The Co-op Opens A Second Store

2003 North Store Grand Opening
The Co-op opened a second store in northwest Corvallis in a former Dari-Mart on the corner of 29th & Grant. It opened with a big celebration in the summer of 2003.
2006
2006

Business of the Year

Staff Wearing Shirts with Recycling Symbol Giving the Thumbs Up
Voted Business of the Year by Benton Chamber and Best Grocery Store by Gazette Times readers in 2006. In 2009, the North store did a major expansion.
2010
2010

Competition and Challenges

2012 - Carli Near the GROW Bananas Display
The year 2010 brought a dual challenge: an explosion in natural foods store competition combined with a national economic downturn.
2014
2014

Milestones in Ownership

The 10,000th Owner Smiling with Partner
Despite recent economic challenges, the Co-op reached a big milestone in Ownership in 2014, by signing up its 10,000th Owner.
2020
2020

50 Years Of Cooperation

Cashier, wearing a face mask, holds a bottle of spray cleaner
In 2020, the Co-op turned 50, but celebration plans had to be set aside as the COVID-19 pandemic surged. The store and its customers made major adjustments to ensure the community could access food as safely as possible. Our community rallied together and experienced a renewed appreciation for the awesome staff at First Alternative Co-op.