The Harvard Cooperative Society (the "COOP"- not the Co-Op as other cooperatives are commonly called) was founded in 1882 by a group of students to reduce student living costs while attending Harvard. Students felt the local Harvard Square merchants were overcharging for the price of firewood, books and other necessities. On March 20, 1882, the Coop opened for business in a student's dorm room in Harvard Yard. Only members who paid the $2.00 membership fee were allowed to shop at the Coop, where products such as books, coal and wood were priced at 5% over cost and all profits were reinvested in the Coop. As the Coop's business grew, rebates were paid and membership fees were reduced to $1.00. By 1900 membership and sales had increased enough that the Coop moved to a larger space and increased its merchandise offerings to include men's furnishings, shoes, tailoring and a medical bookstore.
In 1903 the members decided to reorganize into a more corporate form where the ownership was to be vested in a group of stable stockholders who would act as trustees for the members. These stockholders, along with the members, would nominate and elect directors and officers to manage the Coop. The governance of the Coop continues to be a 23 member board of directors consisting of 11 non-student members, 11 student members and the Coop's President, all serving one-year terms.
In 1906, the Coop purchased a building and relocated to the site of the current main Harvard Square store. This building was re-built in 1925 and has been the Coop's flagship store and an icon in Harvard Square ever since. In the following decades, the Coop expanded its offerings substantially, always trying to offer goods and services in response to the needs of its members. In 1916, when MIT moved from Boston to Cambridge, the Coop was invited by a committee of the Technology Council and the President of MIT to establish a branch at MIT (The Technology Store). The Coop has been on the MIT campus ever since.
The Coop's business grew steadily in lockstep with Harvard and MIT. New buildings were added to Harvard Square along with additional stores on or near the Harvard and MIT campuses. During the 1980's growth accelerated as a store in downtown Boston and an expanded store at Kendall Square were opened.
In 2014, in response to member feedback, the traditional member rebate on purchases was converted to an up-front member discount of 10% on member purchases. This change in value proposition was well received and resulted in a doubling of membership in its first year.
The Coop has enjoyed the distinction of being the oldest and largest college bookstore in the United States for many years and still operates as one of the largest collegiate retailers.
The Coop's Mission is to serve the Harvard and MIT communities as a cooperative by providing quality products and services. Our operations should be profitable, enabling us to share a portion of those profits with our members in the form of a 10% member discount, and to support a capital budget which will ensure our viability.