If there’s one store which has the same name in Italy as in the UK then it’s the ‘Co-op’ which in Italy is known as ‘la Coop’ (pronounced ‘cop’). The two coops, although having certain principles in common, are, of course, managed by different organisations which, however, are members of the international cooperative forum.
Historians of supermarkets will remember that the original ‘co-op’, or co-operative store opened in Rochdale in 1844 under the name of the ‘Rochdale society of Equitable Pioneers’. There were two main purposes in setting up this society. The first was to fight back against the truck acts whereby workers were paid in coupons to be spent at their factories’ own stores – clearly an infringement of individual freedom and a grossly unfair way of paying employees. The second, which has become the hall-mark of the cooperative movement, is the sharing of the company profits among members of the cooperative society through the use of the original ‘dividend.’ I can faintly remember coop dividend coins being issued used in Lewisham, London. They were made of tin and could be exchanged for products in the store. This was, in fact, an early type of the present day plastic ‘loyalty card.’
Italy, too, has had early beginnings in its cooperative movement – in Turin in 1854. However, it wasn’t until after the last war that the coop store started to become a regular feature in Italian towns.
Whereas in the 1990’s the British coop store hit some really hard times and appeared doomed to extinction, the Italian coop store has continued to expand throughout the peninsula. (I’m glad to say that the Coop in the UK is again thriving, especially since it bought up Somerfields.)
There is a huge newish Coop store in Viale Giannotti, Florence for example, and, last week I took my first look into Lucca’s mega-coop store which is at Viale Puccini no 1718 (the road leading out of Lucca city centre towards Massarosa). It’s open daily from 8 am to 9 pm, Mondays to Saturdays, and from 8.30 am to 1.30 pm on Sundays.
Like the great late Dave Allen in his famous monologue on the subject I feel somewhat manipulated in a supermarket but I have a particular affection for the coop and I was not disappointed by Lucca’s contribution to a retail outlet which was founded on idealistic principles. These principles are still largely upheld and they include the following:
- Voluntary and open membership
- Democratic member control
- Member’s economic participation
- Autonomy and independence
- Education, training, and information
- Cooperation among cooperatives
- Concern for community and ecological issues
The store has a good variety of food and related items. I thought the fish section was particularly good.
The pet section was brilliant with non-packaged cat biscuits of all varieties to suit the fussiest feline:
I couldn’t find any baked beans though. (Esselunga has them at Marlia, however.)
Although prices are not at the ‘discount store’ level, there are still a number of bargains and ‘offerte’ to be had, provided you have your coop card with you (issuable at the store).
If you happen to be travelling down the Via Puccini the Coop is definitely worth a look-in and just next door there’s ‘Mercatone’ (pronounced ‘mercatonay’) too – good for home furnishings and electrical goods.