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D.C.’s only food co-op

Georgia Avenue grocery hopes to expand

in SE’s Fairfax Village area by year’s end

(Published October 18, 1999)

By ERICA WINTER

Special to The Common Denominator

Although Bethesda, Takoma Park and Arlington are among the D.C. area communities with natural food co-ops, the city itself, despite the ever-growing demand for natural foods, has only one. The Everlasting Life natural foods co-op grocery store, opened in June 1998, sits at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Columbia Road NW.

It’s not exactly a moneymaking location. Store manager Baruch Ben-Yahuda says the goal of the 10-person collective that runs the store is not necessarily to sell at high volumes, but to give "access to good food" to those who have not had that access in the past – either financially or geographically. As with all co-ops, the profits of the store are recycled back into the business.

Soy milk is the store’s best seller. The shelves are stocked with juices, rice, flour, tofu, honey, teas, organic vegetables and fruits, vitamins, health tonics and natural beauty products. The store carries a large stock of noni juice, a fruit juice from Tanzania that is growing in popularity due to its antioxidant effects.

There also is a vegan café and juice bar at the back of the store. Since the vegan diet – containing no animal products — is new to many neighborhood residents, Ben-Yahuda wanted not only to sell natural foods, but also show how they could be prepared.

The co-op does a lower volume of business than it might if it were located in Dupont Circle or Georgetown, but "if I didn’t come back to this neighborhood, no one would," said Ben-Yahuda, who spent his childhood in Shaw and in Southeast Washington. The collective tries to set lower prices on its goods — all vegan and organic — than other natural foods stores in the city so that community residents can afford them. The members of the collective put their own money into the venture to keep it afloat.

It all started with car racing. Ben-Yahuda, a vegan for more than 20 years, used to drag race cars in upper Northwest Washington before D.C. police cracked down on the practice. Ben-Yahuda says he would take meticulous care of the cars, but not take good care of himself. After wrecking several of the cars he about the vegan diet — which is composed of whole grains, fruit, vegetables and no animal products — Ben-Yahuda changed his life.

The store itself was born in Ben-Yahuda’s Northwest Washington garage. His house then was part of a five-house natural foods buying group that spent upwards of $1,500 a week on groceries. After a dispute with an area food co-op that left Ben-Yahuda feeling mistreated, he teamed up with others to form his own store.

Everlasting Life moved to its current location after the building underwent six months of extensive renovations. "‘Vacant’ is an understatement – it was condemned," said Ben-Yahuda. The building, and the pay phone right outside, were obviously being used for "illicit activity," he said. "Just our presence has been a major neighborhood cleanup."

To help the collective get a foothold in its new location, the Bethesda Food Co-op in Cabin John, Md., allowed Everlasting Life to buy through its store’s accounts, and then helped Everlasting Life open its own accounts with distributors. Also, the Soul vegetarian restaurant, nearby at 2606 Georgia Ave. NW, provided an immediate customer base interested in buying natural foods.

The store has expansion plans underway. In addition to plans of opening a location in the Fairfax Village neighborhood in Southeast at the end of this year, Ben-Yahuda has rented out the building adjoining the Georgia Avenue store to offer affiliated programs. Past speakers have included David Wolf, a whole foods expert, and Dr. Jewel Pookrum, a local naturopathic doctor. A workshop Oct. 11 with gourmet whole foods chef Aris La Tham taught vegan food preparation.

Ben-Yahuda sees the store’s biggest contribution to the community to be information on a way of living and "eating for nutrition’s sake," he said.

Taking his message beyond the streets to the airwaves, Ben-Yahuda has just launched a radio show, also called Everlasting Life, which airs Saturday mornings at 7:30 on WWGB radio, 1030 on the AM dial.

Copyright 1999, The Common Denominator