Food co-op tables question of its own shutdown

Vancouver grocery hears renewed pledges to keep doors open

By Scott Hewitt, Columbian social issues & neighborhoods reporter

Published:

 

A Thursday membership meeting of the faltering Vancouver Food Cooperative was called to consider whether to close the store's doors and perhaps dissolve the organization permanently.

Instead of dissolution, the meeting turned up pledges of new energy, new memberships and a new business plan. People declared their intent to help with marketing, financial planning, Web posting and more. In the end, the group voted to table the dissolution question for 30 days.

After a modest but promising start in 2011, the co-op's store at 1002 Main St. has suffered flattening sales and some unexpected and costly equipment failures this year, according to board president Kirk Wright. But the member-owned and operated co-op's problems have been bigger than that, people at the meeting agreed.

"There's definitely a sense of drained energy," said board member Tom Miewald. That's why an earlier board of directors meeting uneasily decided to turn down an emergency loan offer of $20,000, and instead submit to members the suggestion that the co-op call it quits.

"There's an overriding feeling that the problem is not due to cash but due to limited involvement from the community," said Wright. "The feeling was there wasn't any amount of money that would solve these problems."

Just 46 out of the co-op's 400-plus members came to Thursday's meeting, which was also open to nonmembers. Many questions were raised about products and profit margins, the store's location and hours, the job the board has done — and, chiefly, the ongoing lack of financial statements, on paper.

Wright and acting treasurer Patty Page said there's been sufficient churning among bookkeepers and other volunteers to make the co-op's financials a bit of a mess.

Officers said the organization is $35,000 in debt right now. It's also owed approximately $9,000 in back dues by members. Membership in the co-op costs $180. Membership is not required to shop at the store.

The slightly chaotic meeting turned up enthusiastic offers of volunteer help in what Wright has referred to as badly needed "middle management" positions. Potential new webmasters, a volunteer coordinator, members of a new finance committee and a marketing director all came forward and offered to take on some of the work ahead.

There were also offers of new board members. According to the bylaws there are supposed to be between seven and 15 board members; at the Thursday meeting, the board was down to just four.

Membership energy and concern at the meeting was palpable. The vote to dissolve was preempted by a vote to table that motion for 30 days. The final — and informally counted — vote was either 34 or 38 for tabling the motion for 30 days, and 12 or 13 against.

The motion carried. There's no concrete plan yet for the 30-day follow-up meeting.