I want to ensure that our owners are aware that there is a lot going on at the Co-op, in addition to selling groceries. I have been working on several in-house projects over the last many months, including implementing the recommendations from the annual audit, patronage rebate and non-member surcharge, courtesy memberships, employee benefits, and operational improvements. Some of this work is closer to implementation than others, but there is an underlying theme of fiscal responsibility in all of them. My role as GM continues to be to communicate each committee’s purpose, then follow and evaluate their progress.

Owner opportunities

We are asking owners yet again for their input and guidance on a new effort to explore patronage rebates as a benefit of ownership. Please check our website or in the store for sign-up to receive information about focus groups meeting in early January—we are eager to hear what you have to say.

Operational projects:
Jenifer Street egress

The recurring comments from owners to open a second exit from the parking lot have resulted in a project to assess neighborhood support and feasibility from the City. A traffic survey was conducted in November that will provide some needed data from which will determine our next steps. If the reporting suggests that an egress onto Jenifer Street will significantly diminish traffic stress for the neighborhood, we would call for a neighborhood meeting before proceeding with a request to the City for overturning their original conditional use permit.

Expansion efforts

The Board, staff, and our owners have been collaborating to strengthen our operations since hearing that our second store was halted. By last spring we had regained focus on how to move forward and we are now prepared to reap the benefits of some of that work.

Season of giving:
Yahara River Grocery Cooperative

Willy Street Co-op has received as many as 10 requests a year from individuals seeking input on how to open a cooperative in their community. Residents of the Stoughton community began reaching out to us over a year ago in an attempt to open their own retail grocery. When Yahara River Grocery Cooperative (YRGC) opened their doors in March 2008, they became one that actually succeeded in opening a retail store. Their first six months have been challenging and we recognize our responsibility to assist them as long as they have owners that are still committed to making it work. In late October, we were asked to provide ANY support we could and it so happened our Board and staff was more than willing to shift duties to implement an interim (short-term) support plan. The mutual benefit has provided Willy Street Co-op an opportunity for us to gain skills in operating a small store format in unfamiliar territory. We have laid out a three-phase approach—four weeks each—with their Board president to provide them the structure they need to independently move ahead.

At our Co-op, we’ve had the good fortune of being successful meeting our owner’s needs—groceries. In the coming months and years, I am hopeful that more of the cooperative principles and goals will be chosen as a model for better business on a regional and global scale.