I have heard it said that it’s a gift to know when it’s time. I have received many gifts in my tenure here at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, often in thoughtful and caring conversations in the aisles. For now, though, I am stepping down at the end of December as General Manager. I believe that a new person taking the lead, with new energies and new vision, will be just the ticket for our beloved Co-op, to continue to shepherd it through the next few pastures.
The conversation about inclusion and systemic racism has developed quite a bit in our community since the Annual Meeting of 2019, when we were rightly challenged about racist aggressions that we were perpetuating in our store. Although we had begun some work on our understanding, we clearly had much to learn, and I recommitted our organization to a more rigorous and focused attention on inclusion and equity.
As you well know, the governor has indicated that the reopening phase will be accelerated, with the numbers of those vaccinated reaching an acceptably high percentage.
We have long said that the initial herky-jerky moves that we all made to protect ourselves and each other from virus transmission, though difficult and confusing, wouldn’t come close to the difficulty of emergence. Now, conflicting messages and even conflicting ordinances have served to sow apprehension among businesses as we all prepare to navigate the transition ahead.
Things are changing in the Co-op! As I reported last month, we are making some changes here and there to plan for the Café reopening, which we are targeting for mid- to late-June. We are operating under the assumption that the governor is moving towards a full reopening of restaurants by July 4, so we are hurtling towards that goal. Some changes you may have already seen include modifying the Customer Service desk to include all aspects of service, including Shareholder Services.
Each year, during mud season, we plan. We begin to think about new options for physical space, upgrades to tools, decisions about expanding or contracting certain food categories, and along the way, we try to figure out how our sales will respond. As you can imagine, this past year has been a wild ride, with unexpected twists and turns. I have so much respect and admiration for our management team, who came together and figured out pandemic adjustments, again and again, displaying real teamwork and support for each other as we reacted and reformulated.
Every year the Brattleboro Food Co-op invites its growers to gather and share their experiences with the BFC over the previous season. It’s our first sign of spring around here! This year, a dozen of our farm partners participated, our highest attendance ever! Turns out—as with a number of other discoveries we have made in this unlikely time—Zoom meetings are pretty conducive to farmers’ busy lives, and they were more than happy to join us without having to come down to the store.
I am currently recovering from a knee replacement, an unfortunate reminder that age and arthritis march along, regardless. This has occasioned me to be ever so grateful to our entire staff and to my colleagues on the management team, for allowing me to be offsite for several weeks in recuperation while things around the store continue to hum along at a pretty good clip.
Much has been said and written about the turn into this new year. At the Co-op, things are no different—our cumulative exhaustion is proof enough that things need to go better in this new year, as we will no doubt need to adjust several more times to new normalities. Still, I find that gratitude has actually been easier to come by in my own assessments, and I believe this to be true of lots of our community members and Co-op customers as well.
As we round the bend into the last month of 2020 (can I get an “Amen”?!?), we launch into the reconfiguration of the Bulk department to offer more options for you to select from gravity bins yourselves, as opposed to us bagging them for you in arbitrary quantities. Much thought, work, and investment has gone into this change, and we hope that you enjoy the effect on your shopping choices in that department. As you’ll see, we will continue to serve you with liquids, nut butters, and herbs, and have moved things around to make that a bit more efficient.
At the Co-op, this time of year is always both exhilarating and exhausting. I always say that a true retailer revels in this craziness: people enjoying thinking about food, looking for interesting products, planning events with family and community, and bubbling over in the aisles with joy—and with stress. This year, overlay all that with the pandemic situation, which as I write this is currently hinting at surging, and the balance between joy and stress shifts a little.
…and I invite you to consider what your Co-op means to you and your family these days, especially in light of all the upheaval to which we are constantly adjusting. We at the Co-op have been working on how best to support and provide for all of you this holiday season (like no other to date). In preparing for this, we have been analyzing our trends and also observing those of the industry to assist us in thinking through our various solutions.
Fall is always a little bit of a restart in our industry—summer sales tail off a bit as people begin to get ready for fall routines, and the gathering of energy builds toward the crescendo of harvest festivals, foliage, Indigenous People’s Day weekend, and, of course, the holidays. But this year is different.