Fear has been on my mind lately. You’d think, after living several (some might say many) decades in this society, that I would not be surprised at the centrality of fear to our human reactions and decisions. In my continuing education about white supremacy and my privileged existence, the constant drumbeat of fear in the appallingly consistent steps that we have taken against populations of color is overwhelming. What in the world are we so afraid of?
And then, the coronavirus. Oh my goodness, we had so little warning and such an escalating impact! It once again reminded me of the galvanizing power of fear in our reactions, even as our staff struggled to keep beans and rice stocked in the bulk bins, while sanitizing products on the shelves. Of course, we had immediate shortages in our supply chain, and our largest supplier even held back multiple orders from delivery without warning, so shortages of staple products were only the beginning. Many other products were collateral damage in the unwelcome news that our deliveries were not going to be made.
This is the world in which we live. Supply chains are incredibly vulnerable to widespread issues like virus outbreaks, in ways that we might never expect. The butterfly effect is alive and well. We have other secondary and small distributors, but they too have problems with supply and labor. When our local governments took the unprecedented step of closing schools to slow the spread of illness, for instance, all of those parents were faced with child-care issues, and they couldn’t go to work to get those orders picked and delivered to the Co-op. And even if it weren’t winter, with our part of the world depending on fresh food from greenhouses, those neighbor farmers and truck drivers still have the same challenges.
So this is why hoarding happens. In the end, some people make decisions about their own immediate needs that they think will allow them to weather the storm, whatever shape it might take. And these types of decisions are very much the territory of privilege. Tying up hundreds of dollars in foodstuffs and hand sanitizer is not an option for lots of people.
Our Co-op is also not in a position to buy large quantities of backstock, even if we had adequate warning of impending supply issues. We have been discussing our discount structure for the last year, and are aware that giving away $750,000 in discounts last fiscal year when we lost money on the bottom line is not sustainable. This last week has made this eminently clear. Resilience begins with thoughtful fiscal decisions, and we have some tough ones to make in this regard.
But rest assured that we will continue to do business as long as possible in all the ways that we can. We will continue to offer foods that support your immune system functioning, so that if you do contract this virus (or another one), your body will have the resources it needs to fight through it. We will make sure that we utilize every option we can to put supplies on our shelves, and get those supplies to you. We will do our best to staff the store, as our folks re-purpose themselves to new and different roles in the new short-term version of our business. As of this edit, we have just added more precise access to curbside ordering that our staff can select and bring out, either same-day or the next day, and we have moved open store hours to be able to continue to be open with the minimum amount of staff in the aisles for other essential community members that are still needing to be out and about.
Our Co-op is an important community resource. We will continue to act as one, and will do everything we can to reasonably and thoughtfully provide for you, our shareholder owners and our community members, because we fundamentally believe that we are stronger together, especially in moments of crisis.
Although I may refrain from physical contact, I’ll see you on the curb,
By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager