The store is a consumer-owned cooperative, located a block off the courthouse square in Paoli. And while anyone can shop there, co-op members occasionally get discounts on its many locally-produced products. But more than that, members always reap the benefits of supporting a store dedicated to locally-grown, all-natural goods. They have a store dedicated to local producers and to all that staying local does for the local economy.
“We view this as an economic development engine,” said Debbie Turner, one of the cooperative’s organizers.
The Lost River co-op, named for a local landmark, first opened in October 2007. Its official grand opening was in May. The full-service co-op store now has 575 members and offers a mix of conventional food items; locally-produced meats, vegetables, baked goods and health and beauty aids; natural food selections; bulk foods; hard-to-find items; prepared deli foods; regional cheese and organic dairy products; and even locally-designed greeting cards. The store also carries a selection of local and craft beers and wines. The goal of the retail store is to have a unique product offering, but be broad enough to be a primary food store.
But what it truly specializes in is recycling the dollars among the neighbors as opposed to other businesses that take profits away from the residents and the region.
The store utilizes the goods produced by 40-50 vendors from the southern half of Indiana and northern Kentucky to make its offerings local and distinctive. This includes eggs from local free-range chickens, cheese from Greenville, natural meats from Dubois County, organic milk from Indianapolis, coffee from Greencastle, and more.
“There’s a great comfort level in knowing exactly where it was raised and who raised it,” noted Andy Mahler, another of the co-op’s organizers and chair ofthe board. Both he and Turner are consumers of Orange County REMC.
“The produce is our happiest area,” added Turner. “We really are pleased with it.”
The cooperative gives local producers and even artists a new outlet for their goods. In some instances, Turner noted, the store is the first opportunity for some of the suppliers — such as a local artist who has produced greeting cards — to find an outlet for their goods. “There’s just one after another of these little stories,” she said. “All of sudden, we’re developing a market for local vendors to develop and have a way to sell. We’re a gateway for them to realize that dream.”
To be successful, the store will need to regularly draw consumers from Orange and its surrounding counties. Mahler and Turner noted some returning customers are coming from towns as far as Corydon and counties even farther beyond like Perry.
One of the other focuses of the cooperative is to help redevelop downtown Paoli as a place to socialize and gather. Mahler noted the highway bypasses and big box stores have diluted the feel of traditional small towns all across Indiana. “We’re trying to bring that sense of community back downtown,” he said.
To learn more about Lost River Market and Deli, go to www.lostrivercoop.com.