During the 1970s, cooperative ventures blossomed, particularly in urban areas. The concept underlying consumer co-ops is straightforward: Co-op participants, called members, pay dues to join a group of like-minded individuals to purchase commodities in large quantities at wholesale prices. Then, members buy a portion of the product at reduced prices. As Matthew St. Onge, president of Boston Building Resources (previously known as the Boston Building Materials Co-op), explains, “In simple terms, a bunch of people buy a big wheel of cheese, and members buy pieces of it.” In BBR’s case, members purchase kitchen cabinetry, doors, window repair supplies, and other home-improvement materials.
Not so well understood is that co-ops are not charitable organizations but businesses where profits are reinvested in the enterprise or returned to the members.