I work at the Shareholder Services desk at the Co-op. In mid-March I returned one week early from a trip to the Pacific Northwest and California, quarantined for two weeks, and then came back to find a completely transformed workplace. It was shocking: the business had been completely reinvented in less than a month. No customers at 10 am on Tuesday when I arrived, just a sort of warehouse feel with a bunch of very busy colleagues, as though all the grocery aisles were just for storing food for purchase, none of the browsing or chatting, just dry storage, cold storage, freezers full of future shipments.
Over the course of the past few years, the town of Brattleboro has seen an unfortunate rise in addiction and poverty, affecting many of our lives. We at the Co-op have experienced this first-hand, as addiction has deeply affected our staff, family, and friends. The experience of walking in downtown Brattleboro is not unlike that in many other towns and cities. From Greenfield to Burlington to Bennington we are seeing and feeling the same effects of an economic, political, and health care system that is broken, which makes folks turn to the street. In recent months, we as a Co-op have tried to show leadership when we can as a response to what is presenting itself here in our town. People who are struggling and in need of support are often overcome by demons in their search for ways to cope. We at the Co-op feel a need to try and be a part of positive change that can be a way to shift what is happening here and all across the country. As our Ends Policies state, we are and believe we must be a “welcoming community marketplace,” one that is built on the Cooperative Principle “Concern for Community.” We are proud of our actions thus far, and think that it is important to be publicly involved in all of the initiatives that are underway in our community. We were not among the merchants who authored the anonymous open letter that The Commons printed on May 29th.* Although we understand and appreciate the work that this group, like many others, is pursuing to come up with solutions, we think that public dialogue with clear authorship is important to better further a community-wide initiative. As we reflect upon our role as an anchor downtown merchant with thousands of employees and customers impacted by the current reality, we feel it is important to reiterate the projects we are involved with, and inform about internal actions we are taking.