Whole Foods Co-Op: Natural Foods & Cafe

By Jacob Steen
Gannon University Student Contributor

Go into any chain grocery store in Erie: Giant Eagle, Wegman's, Top's, or even Wal-Mart, and try to purchase four or five spices for cooking. Unless you stick to salt and pepper, it is going to cost an arm and a leg (upwards of $15 for the cheap stuff).

As a vegetarian and epicure, I believe having the right flavors and ingredients makes all the difference and in Erie that can cost a fortune. Luckily, there is a grocery store in Erie that has all the spices, flavors, ethnic foods, and varieties that you could ask for and often at a fraction of the price: the Whole Foods Co-op on West 26th Street.

Whole Foods Co-op has been in the Erie community for over thirty-five years. They've been bringing our area not only some of the most unique food items, but also the best selection of organic and locally grown foods.

When I sat down with Director of Education and Outreach Bob Sonnenberg and Marketing and Member Services Manager Heidi Yeagle, they explained how there is often a misconception in Erie about the Co-op. The store is member-owned and largely member-run, but it is completely open for business to the public, member or not.

There are, however, many benefits to actually becoming a member. Members vote at annual meetings, and can run for positions on the Board of Directors. Members get certain discounts every month. What I find to be most important, however, is the equality of the Co-op's members. Each member purchases one—and only one—share of stock in the business for a one-time fee. One stock means one vote, and that means an equal say and influence for each and every member.

Members and shoppers are far from the only ones who benefit from this Erie gem. The Co-op regularly hosts classes that are open to the public and are often free of charge. Classes include subjects such as: yoga, vitamins, cooking, and a monthly ethnic dinner (Full Moon Dinner series).

The Co-op has also offered a monthly farmers' market during the summer months for local growers. Many of the items throughout the store year-round are locally grown, but this farmer's market is a smorgasbord of color, variety, and value. They have meat and eggs from McKean, cheese from North East, and produce from everywhere in between. Shopping from these local growers, both at the farmer's market and year-round at the Co-op, not only keeps money in our region but it allows you, the customer, to know where your food is coming from and that it was produced humanely.

Remember when I said that a handful of spices could cost over $15 or even $20 at most stores? Upon my last trip to the Co-op, I bought five not-so-common varieties for my latest dishes. How much did this selection of seasonings set me back? Around $5. Talk about value!

Because Whole Foods Co-op consistently caters to an environment- and health-conscious crowd, they buy in bulk and, upon request, often sell common items in bulk (some restrictions apply). This saves the customer money and reduces packaging waste in our community.

So the next time you're attempting to sizzle up a stir-fry, cook a curry, or even just purchase a cut of organic, locally grown beef for your family, head up to 1341 West 26th. The knowledgeable staff and wide selection of the Whole Foods Co-op will help you get the job done easily, tastily, and ethically. 

Feel free to visit their website for more information on products, community classes, membership applications, and more at or on Facebook at Whole Foods Cooperative. You can also contact them via phone at (814) 456-0282.

Website and Contact Information

1341 West 26th St.
Erie, PA
Ph: (814) 456-0282