People initially come into cooperatives for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, they come looking for health reasons. Typically, a conversation with a health provider engenders a search for a supplement, a food replacement, a lifestyle change. In some towns, this may only go as far as a visit to a national chain that sells mostly supplements and has little customer service. We don’t have any of those types of stores nearby, so the Brattleboro Food Co-op is frequently the go-to place for this discovery process.
Thank goodness. Because at the Co-op, we have a helpful and kind staff that often assesses people wherever they are, and gently brings them to the options that we have available to meet their needs. These conversations are key to the Co-op difference. We hear about them through feedback and incidental conversations, where this or that staff member is fondly praised for such-and-such interactions, that not only met the stated need but also eased that customer into other supportive lifestyle changes, and in so doing, introduced the customer to other parts of the store, and sometimes other people.
I recently attended a conference where an information technology specialist talked about some of the latest shiny advances in food retailing. Some of these are very familiar to you—like the continued development of self-checkouts—and some less so—like grocery store robots that manage inventory, cruise the aisles for spills, and occasionally are perceived to chase children in the aisles (some think these machines are creepy, despite the googly eyes they sport). In theory (you may have heard this before), these robots and enhanced checkout stations allow employees to spend more time on customer service.
Maybe, but I wouldn’t count on it. I think that as we engage you in the aisles, whether about a supplement, a cheese, or a new unfamiliar tropical fruit, we are making a human connection that inevitably leads to more information, related interest, and—perhaps most importantly—a moment of calm focus, something we have to work at finding now in this digital age.
As time passes, this new customer may become used to asking questions, intrigued and empowered by the wealth of information available throughout the store and among the staff, and, little by little, we establish an important relationship that helps to add positive notes to our days. I hear it all the time. “This is my family.” “I love seeing S___, she always helps me out, no matter what my questions are.” “Oh, good, so glad to see you. Can I have a hug?” And we are there when a family member gets sick, needs groceries, or loses a health struggle. This is your Co-op, and the things that really matter here are these community strands that are so important to our quality of life.
We don’t always value them, these little gifts that you will only reliably find in our Co-op. But in this season of gratitude, we have yet another opportunity to acknowledge those parts of our lives that enrich us and give us the ability to face the darker, more difficult challenges.
Speaking of opportunities, the restorative justice option that the Co-op, the Windham County State’s Attorney, the Brattleboro Police Department, and the Brattleboro Community Justice Center have collaborated on since last fall has been deemed a success. To remind you, this is an option police officers can offer someone who is potentially being charged with retail theft that, if taken and followed through, avoids the justice system in favor of social contracts and support in dealing with underlying causes of theft. As a Co-op member, you can volunteer to sit on these panels to assist someone who has broken the law in finding a path to a different choice. This past year, four of the fourteen people who were referred successfully completed the program and one is still in process. That’s a pretty high success rate, especially in light of the difficulty the officers experience making contact with some of the population. Want to know more? Contact the BCJC at 802-251-8141. Remember that the Co-op will award work credits for your time. Gifts come in many packages.
See you in the aisles!
By Sabine Rhyne, General Manager