I knew the time had come to make a difficult decision when I was at a National Cooperative Grocers Association meeting this past September with managers of many cooperatives throughout the country. The topic of Owner Participant programs came up and I mentioned that Willy Street Co-op still had such a program. Conversation stopped and jaws dropped. No one at the table could believe that we had kept our program going despite the potential liability risks. At the time, we were one of a handful of consumer co-ops who had retained some kind of owner participation program; most co-ops had such a program at some point in their history. But, either because they actually got in trouble because of it (at least seven have) or because they wanted to avoid it, co-ops began to end their programs. Unfortunately for many owners, we felt that we had to make the same decision for the ultimate good of our Co-op.
It is with a heavy heart I report to you we are ending of our Owner Participant program as of December 1st. Twenty-two years ago, I participated as an owner of the Co-op stocking groceries. I applied for a job after a year, then worked in almost every department before being hired by the Board of Directors twelve years ago as the General Manager.
It was wonderful to be able to participate in the operations of my Co-op (and to receive the discount on groceries, which I appreciated at the time). And the Co-op has certainly benefited from the help of interested owners. That’s why it was particularly disappointing—after much discussion with our Board, the managers and legal counsel—to come to the realization that NOT ending the program was contrary to our mission of running a fiscally sound business. Owner Participants interact with the Co-op in a way that is more involved than our owners who just come in to shop, and therefore some people could interpret that Owner Participants have a different relationship to the Co-op, legally, than our owners at large. In order to cover all of our bases and make sure we do not incur any liability for this relationship, the program needed to end. We haven’t mentioned anything in previous newsletters because we were hoping we could find a way to continue the program, and because liability is a sensitive issue.
We are encouraging Owner Participants to apply for many permanent positions available as we open the Downtown store. And, we are partnering even more with groups like Common Wealth Development to support community youth employment opportunities and creating more owner activities through Board programs and events.
The plans are currently at the 75 percent review stage. From that review work, the next set of plans will be redrawn producing final construction documents. Pretty exciting work has been done to get us to this stage-contributions have been made by each product department team, the General Manager team, the design team, industry consultants, architects, and engineers to design the space and select building materials for the project.
We are at a great place to show the membership what you can look forward to—informational meetings are scheduled for the January 15th and 22nd, and February 5th beginning at 6:30pm in the Community Room.