We’ve hibernated for a few months and shoveled ourselves silly. The days are getting longer, the ground is thawing, and it’s time for revitalization.
In a week or two each of you will have an opportunity to cast a vote in favor of or against expending funds for a second retail site. Our bylaws require member-owner approval of any expenditure over $50,000, so the Board cannot enter into a purchase agreement until you have approved spending the money. On April 4th, the Co-op will mail you a ballot asking you to vote “yes” or “no” on building a second grocery store.
The Board struggled with how to time a member-owner vote and what question to pose to you. We spent hours discussing the costs and benefits of asking your approval now of an expenditure for whatever site we end up selecting versus asking your approval later of a specific site, whenever site selection was finalized. As discussed in our “FAQs” posted in the store and on our website, the Board is in the midst of a years-long evaluation and planning process that has involved applying various quantitative and qualitative measures to a broad set of possible sites; meeting with people involved in the Co-op at all levels, including member-owners; and re-evaluating in an environment of constantly changing variables (such as grocery stores opening, closing, and expanding). To require each member-owner to study, discuss, plan, and become experts on second-site selection would be unreasonable. This is work for the Board members; it is their duty.
The Board also didn’t want to ask you to put time, thought, and energy into voting on a specific second site only to have to hear the Board say, “Sorry, it fell through.” This happened with the Monroe Street site a few years ago. As many of you remember, members overwhelmingly voted in favor of the Co-op building a second store at the site currently occupied by Trader Joe’s. When circumstances changed and the purchase became unfeasible, it disappointed all of us and distracted us from what mattered—our aspirations for strengthening the Co-op and improving access to it.
The Board believes that asking you to vote on the second site strategy rather than on a specific site will enable our organization to collectively move forward with securing the best site as soon as possible. With your support, the Board is positioned to act on your behalf with agility.
Big expenditures carry risks. The Board can unanimously and enthusiastically recommend we invest in a second grocery store because the Co-op is in a strong financial position. The first version of our Co-op opened in 1974. We expanded from a cramped space that we shared with Nature’s Bakery to the 9,500 square foot store that we are now. Throughout four significant relocations and remodels, sales, membership, and employment steadily increased, and the Co-op grew to serve more people better.
Why open a second store?
- The Co-op should provide the best service possible.
- Membership has grown beyond what the current store can accommodate.
- Many of us jockey for parking spots.
- Deliveries cannot occur frequently enough and storage is not great enough to keep products in stock.
- At peak shopping times, store activity is frenzied.
As a result of these challenges, we are no longer able to provide the premium service that is our standard. Also, as we reach capacity, sales per square foot and growth at the current store are leveling off.
It is unlikely that a competitor’s store would purchase 25 percent of its produce locally, as the Co-op does. Our local produce purchases alone last year totaled $280,000. Add all of the local cheese, bread, meat, milk, honey, maple syrup and other products that we carry, and it’s clear that we’re doing something special. Bringing the Willy Street Co-op to more consumers would mean more business for local producers and more local products for more shoppers. It would also allow us to increase access to our fair prices and fair employment practices. This would boost our local economy and further distinguish us from our profit-driven competitors that contribute to what Michael Pollan refers to as an “industrial organic meal [that] is nearly as drenched in fossil fuel as its conventional counterpart” (The Omnivore’s Dilemma, page 183).
The Co-op has the resources and expertise to open a second store. A number of excellent sites offer us the opportunity to reach out to a growing community of shoppers and offer more of what is great about the Co-op. Your “yes” vote supports us as we move forward.