Rainbow Grocery in San Francisco is one of the Mission District’s most popular retailers. It began more than 40 years ago as an ashram focused on the art of meditation. As part of its mission, members sought to provide the community with access to affordable vegetarian foods. With the opening of its first storefront in 1975, Rainbow evolved from a spiritual community into a sustainable business.
In the beginning, the store was run by volunteers, but soon its success necessitated a management structure that allowed the owners to pay workers a fair wage. Marcus Trigueros, who has worked at Rainbow for seven years, says that despite its success, Rainbow remains dedicated to its original mission: to provide food for people, not for profit. Today, it’s one of the largest worker-owned co-ops in the U.S., with 250 worker-owners.
Trigueros recalls walking into the store when he was just eight years old and recognizing that it was something different, somewhere special. “Reputation and integrity are what have contributed to Rainbow’s longevity,” he says. “We have the trust of the community because we continue to be an advocate for quality sustainable foods.” The trust also stems from Rainbow’s commitment to only selling 100-percent natural skin-care products. “People throw the word ‘natural’ around all the time, but it doesn’t mean anything anymore,” says Trigueros. “As a buyer, natural is no longer a selling point. Our customers want more. The high standards we hold for our products is what brings customers back.”
According to Trigueros, Weleda products sell well because employees can stand behind each product’s story. “Although not every product works the same on each person, the integrity of the ingredients speaks volumes to the brand,” he says. “Customers love the body oils and face creams.” Inside the store, Rainbow showcases the artwork of local artists and even grants awards to local non-profits. As a champion of the community, quality foods and higher organic standards, it continues to be an active, relevant and vital member of the Mission District. —Monica Agarwala
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