Essay

Grocery Cooperatives

In 1921, twelve grocers met in the back of Mike Hornstein’s store on 18th Street, NW, to form a cooperative, the District Grocery Stores (DGS). Members paid $2,500 to join; their stores had to be at least two blocks away from another member’s store. Their aim was to improve their competitiveness by using their combined power to extract better prices from wholesalers. Then, through the cooperative’s warehouse, members could buy goods at cost. Store owners also benefited from joint advertising, such as full-page ads in the local newspapers that featured specials at all DGS stores. Besides these economic gains, the cooperative fought the anti-Semitism they encountered in business and social relations. By threatening boycotts, they forced food manufacturers to abandon overtly discriminatory employment practices.

Vigderhouse DGS store

The Vigderhouse family’s DGS store, 1922. In the doorway are Naomi Vigderhouse and an employee; Jennie Vigderhouse and son Norman (Bob) are on the right.

JHSGW Collections.

In 1937, DGS President Isaac Jacobson announced plans to build a new, modern warehouse to meet the needs of the cooperative’s expanded membership. Three years later, the warehouse at 6th and C Streets, SW, opened, allowing DGS members to compete with the prices at the new supermarkets. The warehouse had departments for fresh meat, produce, and frozen foods, and even a banana-ripening room.

DGS warehouse

DGS warehouse at 6th and C Streets, SW

JHSGW Collections.

Other grocery cooperatives that attracted mostly Jewish grocers were United Food Stores, the Associated Grocers of Washington, and Washington Wholesale Independent Grocers.

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