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Grain Train

Kristi Kates - April 25th, 2011
The Great Grain Train Turns 40: Petoskey co-op has stuck to its ideals
By Kristi Kates
“The Grain Train Natural Foods Cooperative was born in 1971, when a group
of Petoskey area residents joined together to obtain quality foods at
reasonable prices,” explains Grain Train General Manager Bob Struthers,
“food that was not overly refined and was free from unnecessary
In 1972, The Grain Train opened its first store at 311 ½ E Mitchell St in
Petoskey and incorporated as a not-for-profit, consumer-owned corporation;
in 1977, they relocated to a Victorian-era storefront at 421 Howard Street
(now the home of Julienne Tomatoes.)
By the end of 2002, Grain Train fans were able to find the store at their
present location, 220 East Mitchell Street, “where the larger retail space
lets us carry a larger variety of products to accommodate all of our
members,” Struthers explains.
Forty years strong, and the Grain Train is still chugging along the
healthy-foods track - but, of course, that’s not much of a surprise to
those who frequent the store and are aware of the wide variety of
offerings they have.  And co-op customers benefit even more.

“Cooperatives are unique organizations owned by, and operated for, the
benefit of the people who use them,” Struthers says. “Membership in
cooperatives is voluntary and open to everyone.  Based on the values of
honesty, openness, social responsibility, and caring for others,
cooperative businesses are fundamentally and quintessentially consumer
For those who may not be familiar with the term co-op - which can include
a wide range of businesses from credit unions to utility, agricultural,
and worker co-ops - the Grain Train’s IT Tech and Marketing Committee
Member Dylan Taylor explains further.
“The Grain Train is cooperatively ‘owned’ by nearly 2,000 member/owners,”
Taylor says, “these owners purchase a share and democratically participate
with the store. They vote on our by-laws and mission statements, and elect
our board of directors. The owners really set the tone for the store, and
the staff carries on and furthers the vision of the cooperative. Owners
also receive special benefits, but all shoppers are provided the same
great values.”
The Grain Train’s co-op, Taylor continues, has a “strong set of core
values” that represent the interests of the owners, and the store and
staff help to nurture those values and turn them into a flourishing

The Grain Train wasn’t always the massive local success it is today,
though. Struthers says that one of the major challenges the store went
through was their latest geographic move.
“A major triumph for the Grain Train was the building of the current
facility,” Struthers says. “The move from Howard Street was a difficult
and expensive undertaking for a business our size, but it turned out to be
well worth it, allowing us to better serve our members and community.”
The Petoskey community, Taylor continues, is a major part of the Grain
Train’s ability to survive and prosper even in these difficult economic
“Petoskey and the local community have made the Grain Train a success,”
Taylor confirms simply, “our member/owners have contributed their share to
help the store grow and become a success, and we are thankful for our
wonderful customers. In turn we are devoted to our local community. We
purchase many products locally to both offer the best available items as
well as support our local growers and producers. Our customers can taste
and experience that local investment that we are able to make because of
their support.”
Struthers agrees.
“The Grain Train has always been about people and community,” he says,
“and we’ve always had a dedicated group of people willing to work hard for
what they believe in. Through their efforts, we have been able to make a
positive difference in the lives of many people over the years. This
explains both what drives us, as well as our success.”

“Each day for the last 40 years, the Grain Train has worked hard to
represent its ideals,” Taylor says, “ Our strength comes from the
ideological investment of our owners and customers. Just as the need for
co-ops and natural/organic grocers has grown, so have we. The Grain Train
still operates with the core ideals it was founded on; our bulk selection
still provides every shopper an option to purchase just as much or as
little of dried beans, nuts, flours, granola, quinoa, and a host of other
grains and products as they would like. We check the ingredients of all
our products and ensure that they meet our product guidelines, ensuring
natural products with no additives.”
Special events are another part of the Grain Train’s approach to inviting
in new customers and making the regulars loyal ones.
“We are looking forward to hosting another Community Day at the store,
where all shoppers will receive extra savings on products throughout the
Grain Train,” Taylor says, “we also hope to offer a multitude of great
samples on that day - local cheese, produce, organic meats, Grain
Train-made baked goods, organic and fair-trade coffee, and more.
And while many local business prep those special events for summer,
Struthers says that the Grain Train’s approach to drawing in the crowds is
pretty much the same year-round - rely on quality, allow the co-op to
prosper, stick to their core values, and keep things good and simple.
“This summer - and for the near future - the Grain Train is going to
continue its focus of returning value to our members and the community,”
he says, “in as many ways as we can.”

The Grain Train Natural Foods Market is located at 220 East Mitchell
Street in downtown Petoskey, telephone

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