Provo Citizens Opened One of Utah’s First Co-operative Retail Stores in 1869
As the transcontinental railroad neared completion late in 1868, leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints worried that it might undermine self-sufficiency in Utah and increase the power of Gentile merchants. Brigham Young proposed co-operative merchandising as an alternative to “trading with the enemy.”
He initiated the formation of a wholesale house, Zions Co-operative Mercantile Institution, in Salt Lake City. Young hoped this wholesale outlet would provide inexpensive merchandise to co-operative stores owned by local stockholders in every Utah community.
The people of Provo established one of the first co-operative stores early in 1869. Kimball & Lawrence, a Mormon firm located in Salt Lake City, had just built a two-story brick building where the Knight Block stands today on the northeast corner of University Avenue and Center Street.
The firm realized that they would lose most of their customers to the co-operative movement, so they sold the building and its stock at cost to the Provo Co-operative Mercantile Institution, called by locals the “East Co-op.”
The Co-op did well and doubled in size in 1880 by building an addition onto the east side of the store. The firm continued to show a profit until 1887 when earnings began to fall. By 1895, the co-operative store was bankrupt partly because of extending too much credit.
It successfully reopened two years later, and Jesse Knight bought the property from Z.C.M.I. in 1898. His interests ran the store until 1900, when Knight closed out the stock, tore down the building, and built the present Knight Block, one of the most beloved buildings in the city.