Known by virtually every Harvard student, faculty member, family visitor or Boston area resident as simply ‘The Coop’, this organization was founded in 1882 as The Harvard Cooperative. After an invitation from MIT upon its relocation from Boston to Cambridge in 1916, The Coop expanded to serve that college as well, and continues today as the Harvard/MIT Cooperative Society.
Based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, The Coop serves both of its world-class universities by offering for sale — as well as, in certain cases, rental — textbooks, school supplies, dorm room furnishings and necessities, and a broad range of college logo apparel, merchandise, memorabilia and gift items. The Coop is also first destination for those seeking class rings, cap and gown rental, and the framing of diplomas and certificates. (The Coop no longer sells the wood or coal that it originally made available to Harvard students needing to warm their dorm rooms through the depths of Massachusetts winters.)
Managed by the bookstore giant, Barnes & Noble, The Coop is limited to membership of card-carrying students, faculty, alumni and employees of the colleges it serves. In addition to Harvard University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, those include Radcliffe College (now the virtually totally subsumed ‘women’s college’ of Harvard), Wheelock College, and the medical entities of Harvard Medical School and the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences. For a nominal annual membership fee, participants in the Cooperative enjoy discounts on many items, and share in a distribution of yearly profits back to all of its members. That annual membership fee has remained $1 US since the society’s founding almost 130 years ago.
The Coop currently operates out of six sites scattered across Cambridge, with its Harvard Square location comprising several interconnected buildings on multiple floors. The Harvard Square site is just a short stroll from Harvard’s Johnston Gate, prime access to Old Harvard Yard and the heart of the campus. The cooperative also staffs an online catalog and ordering system, a boon to Harvard’s far-flung network of students, parents and alums.
Due to its closely symbiotic relationship with the Harvard campus, The Coop regularly develops for sale a variety of distinctive specialty merchandise bearing the university’s signature trademarks and colors. Most recently, such products heralded the October 2011 start of celebrations of Harvard University’s 375th birthday.