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The Power of Principled Ownership

It’s National Co-op Month, and that’s a great time to reflect on the power of YOU, our 31,000 Owners. Throughout the last 41 years, people throughout Madison, and eventually Dane County have come together to make our store, YOUR store, a cornerstone of the community. When you become an Owner, you are taking part in the seven Cooperative Principles that over one billion people have adopted as the people’s way of doing business worldwide. We are here for the benefit of each other, our farmers, our producers, and our people and by working together, we have done great things worthy of your celebration!

#1 Voluntary Open Ownership
Since the very beginning anyone could shop, and anyone can join our Co-op. It doesn’t matter who you are or where you live, if you think there is something here for you, you are welcome. In all our years you have come together for many things and at the beginning, it was need. Before Willy Street Co-op opened doors, the Marquette Neighborhood lost the Common Market buying club and due to many factors including a proposed freeway, vacant factories and storefronts, school closure, up-zoning and increased crime it was unlikely the neighborhood was going to get a grocer without taking matters into your own hands. Because of you and your volunteerism, coming together for your common interests, your cooperation created this store to get exactly the food that you wanted, support the kinds of other businesses you wanted to support, and took a stake in making a better neighborhood for your community. And, when some of you have felt like your part in the cooperative was over, either because you were moving away from the community or your needs changed, you’ve left us gracefully, and many of you have donated your investment to charitable purposes by supporting our Community Reinvestment Fund.

#2 Democratic Owner Control
You make a lot of decisions together, believe it or not. At the most basic level, by shopping our store you tell us that you appreciate what we are doing for you and the community and you tell us what products you want us to carry. You elect our Board of Directors, who, in turn, employs our General Manager to conduct the business that you want us to conduct. We are beholden to your bylaws, which cannot change without your consent, and when it’s time for our business to grow, it’s you that we turn to and ask whether or not we can spend or raise capital to make that happen.

#3 Owner Economic Participation
You control the capital of our business and it’s your participation that helps us thrive and grow. Any time you shop or take classes, read our Reader or the annual report, attend the annual business meeting or a Board meeting, run for the Board of Directors or join a committee, pay down your Fair Share investment during the year or an Equity Drive, you are participating in our economic stability and future. When everyone participates, we all win, because the economic benefits of cooperative operation are either returned to you through a patronage refund or reinvested in your Co-op to make your store even better for you and the community.

#4 Autonomy and Independence
Throughout the cooperative movement there have been many periods where attempts have been made to consolidate wealth and ownership to a select few. The Great Recession is the most recent manifestation of what can happen when we allow this kind of wealth consolidation to happen. And that’s one way that you are making a huge difference! Did you know that by being a Willy Street Co-op Owner you are actually helping Madison and Middleton guarantee that a local grocery store will be in your cities for as long as you want us here? It’s true! Together, you are autonomous! Your Co-op cannot be sold or change hands, and cannot close doors without your voting consent. That’s a powerful thing! By simply investing and signing the Fair Share Contract with this business, you are helping others by keeping our doors open to continue to hire people from our community, continue to work with producers in our locality to grow their businesses, and continue to provide you with quality food for yourselves, your friends, and your families. Together, we truly are in more control of our future.

#5 Education, Training and Information
One of the things your staff does for you and we constantly strive to do better, is provide the education and training we all need to effectively contribute to the development of your Co-op. Learning from us, our vendors, and each other helps us all behave in a more cooperative way. You learn from staff and staff learns from you so that we can continuously develop and redevelop into the cooperative you collectively want us to be. That is why we have been expanding our community room offerings to include not only cooking classes and gardening workshops, but also more classes on cooperatives, Ownership, how to shop certain departments, and talks from Community Shares of Wisconsin nonprofits through our new CHIP Chat Series, where you can find out more about the nonprofits you donate to via Community CHIP at the registers. That’s also why hearing from you through our customer comment forms, in person, via focus groups and surveys is so important to us, because it helps us become better informed and do the things, carry the products, and support the businesses you want for you!  We are interested in hearing from you, and we are so glad that you are interested in hearing from and cooperating with us.

#6 Cooperation Among Cooperatives
One of the best ways we have found to serve you is by learning from, and cooperating with, others who know how to cooperate. When we see other cooperatives doing well, we learn from them, and when other cooperatives need help, we are there for each other. That’s how we got started after all, when Nature’s Bakery let us set up shop in their basement all that time ago. In recent years we have exchanged ideas with or helped with the initiatives of the Yahara River Grocery Co-op, Deerfield Grocery Co-op, Regent Street Co-op, People’s Food Co-op, Baraboo Co-op, Common Ground Food Co-op, and most recently, Allied Community Co-op. And those are just a few of the current local Co-ops we have rubbed elbows with over the years! Thanks to our membership in National Cooperative Grocers, we’re able to exchange ideas with food co-ops across the nation, and support each other’s purchasing power through buying product from United Natural Foods together. It’s supporting each other that makes our Co-op Deals sales, IDEALS everyday sales, and carrying the Field Day brand possible, passing on the savings to you. Working together and working with our peers, that’s what your participation makes possible.

#7 Concern for the Community
While focusing on Owner needs, cooperatives work for the sustainable development of their communities through policies accepted by their Owners. We will always have work to do to be the best co-op we can be for all of you, and while we are working on our own needs and success, we can still do something for the community. Thanks to you, we do! A large portion of what other grocers may spend on marketing we spend within our community on sponsoring large events and making donations to nonprofits and cooperatives in the area. You contribute at the registers, on average $225,000 annually to Community Shares of Wisconsin through Community CHIP. Last year, we gave together over $4,000 to Wisconsin Council on Children and Families Race to Equity Program. You also gave over $45,000 to those in need after the Nepal Earthquake through the World Food Program. Each year, thanks to the generosity of those who choose to give their investment to charitable purposes when they leave the Co-op, we are also able to grant an average of $25,000 to nonprofit projects. It’s your generosity and your patronage that makes it possible for us to give back to the community that gives so much to you.

Learn More About Your Cooperation
To celebrate Co-op Month, we’re offering two FREE special classes on cooperation: Simply Cooperatives and Simply Owners. Simply Cooperatives is a great opportunity to learn all things cooperative — how cooperatives came to be, how they can be structured, our Co-op history and operations, and what cooperatives do for the overall economy. Simply Owners is a chance to dig deeper into your Co-op Ownership, what it means to you, what the benefits are, and how your investment impacts our business and cooperates with others across our community. Check out the Community Room Calendar in this issue or on our website for details regarding dates, times, locations, and how to register!

Thank You For Years of Principled Support!
Your Ownership shows the power of numbers, and through all the years you have been a resourceful, creative, supportive, charitable and principled force in our community. Thanks for continuing to work together and cooperate to make our community and our store great.

Tenney Nursery & Parent CenterMark E. SaundersEastside Veterinary ClinicIndependent Psychology AllianceDr. Ingo Mahn

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