History of Gander Consumers Cooperative
In 1946, a group of Gander citizens, lead by future premier Joseph Smallwood, met to discuss the high cost of living in the frontier town. The civilian population of the new town was canvassed for financial support to combat the local grocery monopoly. The group negotiated with the Director of Civil Aviation, and in February, 1947, received permission to use the American Commissary building. At the time, the group called itself the Gander Mutual Benefit Society; the members engaged themselves fixing up the building, building shelves, and ordering product for the new store. The first day of operation was February 25, 1947. The new store was still not officially a Co-op store, but that all changed on June 10, 1947 when the Board of Directors met and approved a Constitution for the Gander Consumers Co-operative, and applied under the Newfoundland Co-operatives Act for official Registration; Permission to become an official co-operative was effective September 17, 1947.
The membership at the time decided to make the Co-op a self-serve store, but this could not be done because there was a problem with the cash registers, and there was a problem in obtaining shopping carts. However, by 1950, these problems had been solved, and, according to Mr. Smallwood, the Gander Co-operative store became the very first self-service supermarket in Newfoundland. In 1950, the decision was made to open a branch store on the Army side, operated by Mr. Smallwood’s brother Reg.
The store had grown by leaps and bounds, and by 1951 the total sales amounted to more than $450,000 – three times the sales of the first year of operations.
In the 1950’s, the community of Gander began the process of moving from the old townsite around the airport to a new townsite where we now live. Minutes of the 1955 AGM state that land had been purchased for a new home and a loan had been negotiated for $50,000. The new store was opened in 1957.
The 1970’s were not good years for the co-op, but despite consideration of closure, the management, staff, and Board worked together in a true co-operative effort, and towards the end of the decade and into the 80’s, their perseverance paid off, and affairs looked positive again.
This positive trend continued into the 1990’s; a new expansion and renovation was completed and new coolers were installed after an exhaustive search to secure land on which to build a new store ended in disappointment. However, the Co-op continued to improve its financial outlook, and members were reaping the benefits of the work that everyone was doing to ensure success. By the beginning of the twentieth century and with over 50 years of operation, the Co-op was becoming the kind of operation the builders and planners had envisaged.
The next few years did not pass without incident. Our Gander Co-op played a major part in looking after stranded passengers as a result of the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001. Also, in 2005, the Gander Co-op had to close its pharmacy because of a very poor economic performance. However, the biggest blow to all consumer co-operatives in the Atlantic Provinces came in 2015 when Co-op Atlantic announced that it was selling its grocery division, and advised local co-operatives to find another supplier. After considerable negotiations, the Gander Consumer Co-operative members decided to go with Coleman’s, a truly Newfoundland company owned and operated. However, Gander Co-op remains an independent store with an elected Board of Directors and wholly owned by its membership.
Your Gander Co-op has continued to prosper. At this time in our history we have sales totalling approximately $13 million with a membership nearing 13,000. Our members continue to support the store, and the Board, management and staff strive to make our store the first choice of our membership.