“The [Central City] Co-op is a Houston institution,” said Wilt, who runs the co-op with her husband Erick Navas. “It is the only one of its kind, and we felt it was important for this institution to be here and to grow with the community.”
As a co-op, Central City brings in food and goods from farmers and other purveyors—some local and some from around the world—to a central location on 20th Street in the Heights. From there, people can buy “shares,” packages of goods made available on Wednesday of each week that include a variety of fresh food and recipes.
Central City was launched in 1998 by a small group of people led by co-op founder Pat Greer, Wilt said. It would later run out of the Montrose Grace Lutheran Church, which took ownership when Greer stepped down. When the church became the Kindred Church, officials found themselves unable to run the co-op, which is when Wilt stepped in.
The co-op ran for a while with a small group of vendors and about 90 members, Wilt said. Then the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything. Between March and July 2020, the co-op grew tenfold.
“Our orders literally tripled from one week to another,” Wilt said. “Nobody wanted to go to the grocery stores.”
With the growth came a need for space, and owners moved into the current location in June 2020. They also expanded the days of operation to six days a week.
Since then, membership has grown to about 500 members. People who learn about the co-op become interested for a number of reasons, Wilt said.
“You don’t get much closer to the farmers than what we work with,” she said. “They literally are harvesting it, and you have it sometimes the same day.”
Today the co-op is debt free, which Wilt attributed to organic growth. Moving forward, she said she wants to turn Central City into a “true co-op,” selling shares in the company to allow members a real piece of ownership.
Wilt emphasized that anyone can shop at the co-op or order online, not just members.
“Everyone is welcome here,” she said.
Central City Co-op
420 E. 20th St., Ste. A, Houston
Hours: Tue., Thu.-Sat. 8 a.m.-5 p.m.; Wed. 8 a.m.-6 p.m.; Sun. 8 a.m.-3 p.m., closed Mon.
Stocking the store
Partnering with more than 90 farmers and vendors, Central City Co-op offers a variety of fresh and local products in weekly share packages that can be picked up every Wednesday. A variety of items are sold, but staples include:
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Microgreens and sprouts
- Fresh herbs
- Locally harvested dairy and protein