Buffalo's Cooperative History
Buffalo and Western New York have a rich history of cooperative businesses and movements, especially in the region's Black community. Explore some highlights of this history below:
Buffalo Cooperative Economic Society
Citizens Cooperative Society of Buffalo founded in 1928 was one of the first documented efforts of cooperative economic entrepreneurship in the city’s Black community.
Led by Dr. Ezekiel E. Nelson, a Black physician, the organization included a co-op grocery, credit union, and educational campaign. The name later changed to the Buffalo Cooperative Economic Society, and the organization existed for over 30 years until 1961.
Buffalo Cooperative Economic Society [1928-1961], Buffalo State Monroe Fordham Regional History Center Digital Collections, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State
The Buffalo Cooperative Economic Society, Inc., 1928-1961; A Black Self-Help Organization: A Brief History and Introduction; 1975, Buffalo State Monroe Fordham Regional History Center Digital Collections, Archives & Special Collections Department, E. H. Butler Library, SUNY Buffalo State
East Side Community Cooperative
East Side Community Cooperative (ECCO) began as a buying club in 1968, and later expanded to a grocery store in 1971.
The store was funded through the Buffalo Model Cities program, which was part of a federal anti-poverty initiative. Founder William E. West reflected in 2006 that while the organization’s members were initially very active, only about 5 percent of its membership showed up to monthly meetings in later years.
The Challenger Community News
EMMA, a feminist bookstore collective in the 1970s and 1980s, was located at the corner of Greenfield and Main Streets.
It was a safe space for lesbians and queers, a hub of leftist culture, and a place to find feminist literature that was not offered at mainstream bookshops. “The collective believed that how they ran the store was just as important as whether they ran it at all.” Members worked store shifts and participated in decision making together.
Adrienne C. Hill, “Archives: Reflections of EMMA,” LOOP Magazine, May 2018
The campaign to open “Our Market” beginning in 1995 was a community response to food apartheid on Buffalo’s East Side.
City Hall agreed to help finance the project, but the money never arrived. The planning committee for this cooperative grocery store recruited members and commissioned a market survey. Their efforts kept the issue prominent until Tops Markets opened on Jefferson Ave in 2003 with substantial state financial support.
Interview, Dr. Curtis Haynes, Jr.
Co-ops and Crises
Below is a video by Leanna Zilles, a 2020 Cornell High Road Fellow, who worked with Cooperation Buffalo to study the history of Black cooperatives in Buffalo and the important role that cooperatives have played in national and global moments of economic crisis and systemic economic exclusion.
Leanna Zilles, 2020
Leanna Zilles, 2020