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Home Improvement at the Co-op

If you have ever lived in a house for a long time and come to the realization that where you live needs to be updated and modernized, you can imagine the processes and decisions that we have gone through here at the Willy Street Co-op East. Whether you are updating a bathroom or kitchen, or gutting your entire house, it certainly doesn’t happen overnight and without a good share of stress. It all started out so straightforward, didn’t it? Upgrading and modernizing Willy East to continue to deliver the shopping experience our Owners deserve has been on the drawing board since 2004 and preparation officially got underway in late 2012. Preparing the wish lists and dreams for the store required hundreds of hours of meetings, emails, phone calls and input from Owners to arrive at what was possible. The resounding theme through this entire process has been how Willy Street Co-op as a community—Owners, staff, and the Willy Street neighborhood has come together to make this renovation possible.

You know how the home renovations go—washing dishes in the bathtub, cooking dinner on a hot plate and microwave, trying to find clothes or dishes thrown in a box, and getting dressed or shaving with no mirror and one light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Willy East’s version of this included the interruption of the water service right in the middle of setting up the Juice Bar, shoppers searching for products as we played “hide and seek” with the merchandise, full departments being temporarily closed while the area was remodeled, the staff in the cheese department dealing with “winter” being piped in from the outside while they continued their daily routines. Sometimes, after demolition in your home remodel, you find out that what you thought was behind the wall wasn’t there. At the Co-op, we experienced this when electrical service showed up right in the middle of a new aisle run. Communications were critical, with project updates and “inconveniences” reported through the newsletter, on the website, and on social media routinely. Of course, what renovation would be complete without cost overruns! In the Co-op’s case, this was prevented thanks to careful planning and our generous Owners voting to expand the budget before the project started.

Just like a home renovation, as you start to replace the old with the new, the family nostalgia creeps in. The pencil marks on the door to see how the kids have grown, the creak in the risers on the stairs, and the handprints in the concrete make for fond memories, and sometimes create anxiety about the project. Owners and staff have had their nostalgia moments too, from seeing the old walls and floors that gave the Co-op its character evolve, to imagining what the new parking spaces for bike trailers will be like, and wondering whether or not the kids area and outdoor courtyard will ever feel as homey. Many improvements are already being made and many are on the way: a new meat counter, an expanded cheese area, a larger Deli area, a new self-service hot bar, improved overall mobility and navigation and, yes, of course, maintainingthe bike trailer parking. Similar to a home remodel, this is not being done to make you forget all the wonderful memories, but to accommodate growth in the ”family” now 31,000 strong and growing.

When you began your home renovation, you looked at magazines, watched This Old House on PBS, talked with many different people about their experiences and visited other remodeled homes. You interviewed contractors, you made the wish list, and you looked at your wallet. At Willy Street Co-op this stage began with the realization of the need to remodel and ended with the reality of our limitations. The dream of having more space, more parking, a better entryway, an improved courtyard, and better bathrooms while trying to do it all in an environmentally friendly and sustainable way began to take shape in early 2013. Countless hours of meetings and Owner input resulted in the Owners voting overwhelmingly to increase the budget from $2 million to $4 million. Even this level would come up almost $2 million short of covering everything that was on the wish list. Expansion to a second story to accommodate more office and meeting space could not be achieved, as it is too costly to improve the structural integrity needed for that option. Our lot and building footprint restricted our ability to add parking and expand our shopping area.

Wish list
Thanks to a lot of challenging discussions and decisions, much of the “wish list” will be achieved and our “home” will be a reflection of our Ownership, staff and neighborhood’s desires. We were able to expand the loading dock area, creating much needed retail floor space for expanded departments and product lines. While not seen by many, a much-needed new roof will keep us all dry and eliminate the problems existing leaks have caused. New energy-efficient HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) systems should add to the overall comfort of our Owners and staff while in the store, and the new enclosed refrigeration units will help with expanded product lines and overall energy conservation. The changes to the outside include new walkways, a new concrete courtyard, and an eye to mobility. Finally, a redesigned storefront with separate interior entry and exitways allow for better store navigation and a community information kiosk.

This is all being accomplished with an eye on sustainability. Much like the typical home renovation project, we are always concerned about the by-product of the remodel. For example, the old sinks, lighting fixtures and old lumber, as well as waste from the material you are using in the final design. From day one, recycling of discarded construction material and the use of environmentally friendly finishes has been a priority. The goal was to have 95 percent of the used material recycled and we are on track to do this. The Co-op is working with Kelly Humphry (LEED Consultant) to adhere to LEED (Leadership, Energy & Environmental Design) standards as much as possible.

the building team
During your home renovation you certainly get to know your building team and, for a short period of time, come to think of them as family. At Willy Street Co-op, Tom Liebl (the construction superintendent for Vogel Brothers Building Company) is family, having been an Owner for over 20 years. As a member of our family, Tom’s understanding of the Co-op’s structure has been very beneficial. He understands the collaborative decision process and what this means for the timing of the project. He has personally enjoyed the challenge because it is different from the projects he routinely works on. To quote Tom, “It has been fun for me,” and he says, “…and an education for the staff at Vogel Brothers.” He describes the job as nothing unusual and acknowledges that when working with an old building, sometimes the plans on paper are different than reality,like the waterline that was supposed to be in the ceiling but actually lived in the floor. The result was the “Great Juice Bar Flood of 2014.” The biggest challenge for completion of the project has been the weather—a long cold winter and a wet spring. Delays tend to compound and cascade, making the timetable very tight. He feels the light at the end is in sight but there is much to complete in the next three months.

thank you
As the weather changes and spring is in the air, your new Co-op is really starting to take shape. It will all be worth it! No project like this gets done without the family: our staff, Owners, neighborhood and builders working together. Our hats are off to our Owners for their support and patience. You have endured all the changes and inconveniences with a smile and a word of encouragement. The Vogel Brothers team has been great to work with. They have risen above all the constraints of the limited space for construction staging, the compressed timeline, and uncooperative weather to do their work in a positive and professional manner, all while the store remained open. Our neighbors have lived through all the mess involved with a construction project, and to them we say “thank you” and that the project is in the home stretch. It goes without saying, a big round of applause goes out to the Willy Street Co-op staff, far too many to name. Without their creativity, adaptability, flexibility and genuine hard work this couldn’t have happened. They have worked through untold product relocations, noisy jackhammers, waterline breaks, dust and people working on top of people. They too, have done all of this with a smile and a commitment to a positive shopping experience for our Owners under conditions that can’t be described any other way than stressful!

This adventure will all be over in a few short months. It will be great to see the finished product this amazing collaboration has completed!

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