Co-ops: The Communal Art of Leverage

As I continue to refine my business model for Re:Store DC, I have been doing alot of research into the advantages of the cooperative business model. One of the most appealing characteristics of the cooperative model is that it serves as a vehicle for many small organizations or micro businesses (sole proprietorships) to band together and use their network to obtain resources at a lower cost than they could individually. Coops also have the advantage of being able to be non profits as well.

Coops foster a sense of democracy and investment among their owners, as all owners have a voice in shaping the goals and work of the enterprise. Co-ops can be found in many different sectors and industries, including agriculture, healthcare, retail, housing, and arts enterprises.

One particularly interesting co-op is the Black Star Co-op in Austin, TX. Black Star is the worlds first cooperatively owned and worker self managed brewpub.

“SO WHAT?” you might ask. Indeed. Black Star is interesting because it is the first brewpub to be “owned” by it’s community. Currently, membership costs $150 and does not expire. In addition to voting rights, membership gets you access to exclusive events and a like-minded social network.

“HOW DOES IT WORK?” For Black Star, all member-owners (currently over 3,000) comprise the Members’ Assembly and each has a vote. . .The Members’ Assembly elects a 9-seat Board of Directors, and the Board focuses on the large organizational picture and oversees the Workers’ Assembly, which manages the daily business operations of the brew pub. 

“DOES THIS MAKE IT MORE SUSTAINABLE?” That is yet to be seen. As Black Star continues to grow and build its community in Austin, the benefits of their business model that are most effective will become more apparent. The hope is that as a co-op, Black Star will be able to best meet the needs of their patrons (and owners) while becoming an irreplaceable part of Austin’s culture scene.

Cheers, Black Star!