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(ABOUT CONSTRUCTION, PARKING AND …)
Q: Congratulations on growing! When will the project start?
A: Thanks, we’re excited, too! We’ve been working on this plan for at least 18 months and we’re ready to get going. We received our building permits in mid-March and have set a groundbreaking date of April 16th.
Q: What will construction look like and how long will it last?
A: We are expanding out to our property line at the east end of our property (behind the card board dumpster). To do that well, we will need to excavate the hillside and build a retaining wall. That wall will perform two functions. In front of the wall, we will house all of our outgoing recycling, compost, and trash, which will be covered with a small roof and screened from public eye. The wall will also form the east end of our 3,000 square foot addition, where staff will receive, process, and stock all of the product that comes into our store on a daily basis. There will also be a new break room and a second bathroom for staff. We expect this stage to take about four months from start to occupancy.
Q: How will this impact parking? Isn’t your parking lot already pretty full?
A: We’ve been working on a plan to minimize the impact to parking. When completed, the addition will NOT take any of our parking spaces (we have 54). However, during construction we will need to use at least seven of those spaces to allow the general contractor to do the work. We plan to erect a temporary fence across the area where they will be working to ensure everyone stays safe.
Q: Interesting—will you be re-paving afterwards?
A: Yes. We will need to dig up parts of the lot to tie into the sewer system and will eventually re-pave, re-stripe, and re-landscape, so it will look pretty similar to how it does today—just cleaner, larger, and more functional.
Q: What else will change during construction?
A: Our staff will need to relocate their base of operations to the south entrance (the Penny Saver side). As we receive product seven days a week, we will need to set up a similar system to the one we currently use at the back door of the store. While construction is happening at our back door, our staff will use the south door to receive, process, and back stock certain items (special orders, for example). We will also need to move all of our recycling and composting work to south side as well. So that entrance to the store will closed to customers during construction, and everyone will enter through the north door.
Q: Will you stay open during construction? Can I still find all the great products I’m used to?
A: Yes—we plan to stay open, keep almost the same product line, and keep the same hours during construction. This year we reduced our gardening supplies to make room for other things that will be relocated outside, like our vendor alcove. The kitchen will keep making great food, including the new customer favorites in our hot bar. However, the product that is currently staged out on our receiving dock will need to be housed inside, so we are planning to use half of the dining room for back stock. The courtyard will be available, although half of that will be used for recycling. Unfortunately, the Salmon Cart will need to be relocated for the summer, so we will have to go elsewhere to find those awesome sandwiches.
Q: The Co-op parking lot is already crowded—how will we manage to find a place to park?
A: A team of staff has been thinking about this and come up with a pretty good plan for helping mitigate the impact. There are so many good ideas—too many to list here—that we have created a special handout that you can pick up in the store or find online at our website (www.foodcoop.coop/expansion).
Q: Thanks, that’s a lot of information. What else can you tell me?
A: Well, there is lots more, but we’ll save all of that for another day. The key things to know is that we want to keep everyone safe (and sane) during construction.
I do want to mention, though, that there will be a temporary wall built by the north door and it will be pretty crowded over there, so the library drop box will be unavailable during this time. And bike racks will need to move. (I’m a daily cyclist myself and I am all about continuing to offer bike parking and keeping cyclists safe.) There will probably be other changes that we either didn’t anticipate or have forgotten to list. Please keep checking our website, social media, and store for more updates.
Q-How did we make the decision to stay here and expand onsite?
In January 2015 we first talked with our members about our overcrowding problems at the store. Using that feedback, we embarked on a 2 year process to determine the best course of action for our store. We conducted a market analysis and a financial feasibility study. Based upon those results, we determined that staying in our current location was the best fit.
Q- Who made this decision?
The decision to stay and modestly expand our building was made in collaboration between the Board of Directors and the GM at the summer retreat [June 2016].
Q- What other options were considered?
We looked at various locations around town to possibly relocate to, but our study confirmed that we are in the best location in town. We also considered building a new store, either here or elsewhere, but the financial feasibility study indicated that it was more affordable to expand and remodel our current building.
Q- How have we changed our building to meet our needs so far?
In 2011 we built an addition to the south side of the building for our kitchen storage [walk in refrigerator & freezer plus some back stock space for dry goods]. In 2012 we expanded by adding the dining room, and then in 2013 we enclosed the south entrance. Finally in 2014 we paved our courtyard and added the large planted flower bed.
Q- What are you planning to do now?
It is still early in the process, so our plans are not entirely worked out. We know we need to improve the capacity of our back rooms, to better process and store back stock grocery and produce items. We also need to improve those areas for staff safety and efficiency.
We will take a good hard look at our mechanical & electrical systems to ensure they can meet our long term needs.
Additionally, we are planning to remodel inside the store to improve flow for customers and staff. We may add extra services such as a meat/seafood counter and a salad bar with wells for hot food and soup.
Q- Did you ask the members about expansion?
Yes- To kick off this process, we held a member forum in January 2015, then added an online poll asking members what they valued most in a facility for the Co-op. Since then we have written about the process and solicited feedback in articles printed both in The Co-op Commons [our newsletter], and blogs on our website. Last summer we put together an ad-hoc facilities workgroup comprised of board and select members of the Co-op to explore our options. The Board of Directors are the elected representatives of the membership designated to envision and articulate the future of the Food Co-op.
Additionally, this month we are sending out a survey to randomly selected members to gather more feedback. Over the years we have been collecting your ideas and dreaming about what we would do when this time arrived. As plans are drafted we will be soliciting feedback from staff for ease of work and the shop-ability of any changes we are considering.
Q- Will member-owners get to vote on the expansion?
We don’t plan to ask our member-owners to vote on an expansion project, per se, as that’s not how our decision making model is set up. Instead our decision making process assigns this responsibility to the Board Directors. The Board has, and will continue to collect member-owner feedback through a variety of channels. However, our bylaws do state that if we need to borrow funds in excess of our net worth we must solicit approval from our members to secure that financing. Should this be the case, we will go to member-owners for a vote sometime in the spring of 2017 after we know what the project will cost.
As part of our cooperative structure, each Food Co-op member-owner is able and encouraged to vote for Board of Directors candidates each year. These Directors are elected to represent member-owner interests, and are empowered to make important decisions on their behalf. The Board carries the fiduciary* responsibility for the Co-op and must approve any real estate purchases or construction projects.
*A fiduciary is a person or group who holds a legal and ethical relationship of trust with one or more parties. When a party knowingly accepts a fiduciary duty on behalf of another party, they are required to act in the best interest of the party whose assets they are managing.
Q- Will Food Co-op prices increase because of the project?
The cost associated with expanding the store will not impact prices of products. Retail prices are driven by several factors, including: cost of goods from vendors, costs for product ingredients, packaging, and transportation. Weather events that impact product availability can also contribute to price increases.
The Co-op is like other grocery stores in that the more food we sell, the lower our cost of goods. As our sales increase, we would expect to see additional cost savings that we then pass on to shoppers. It can also be expensive not to expand when your sales exceed a certain dollar value per square foot. For instance, currently our employees make do with less than ideal work spaces, so it takes more labor hours to stock the shelves since all product delivered cannot be put out, creating significant redundancies and inefficiencies.
Q- Will the expansion include more parking?
At this point in time, no. We are working on several possibilities, but the options are limited. We may need to reconfigure our entire parking lot after we expand, but that is relatively far off in the future.
Q- Will the expansion include solar panels or other’ green’ aspects?
Gosh, we hope so. But again, it is still so early in the planning phase we simply don’t know. Once we know what we want, we will cost it out and see if we can afford all the things we need as well as those we wish for. If not, we will have to let some things go. However, we do know that we need to upgrade our mechanical system and refrigeration units which will improve our energy efficiency.
Q- Will an expanded store offer services that aren’t currently available?
Through years of research and inquiry, we have learned that Food Co-op member-owners want more of what the Co-op does well: access to good food and continued expansion of our mission and values. What we have heard so far, is a wish for a salad bar, with both hot and cold food, and an expanded meat/seafood counter. Other than that, we aren’t sure what we will have room for-as I said earlier, this is by many standards a modest expansion, possibly adding only as much as 2500 square feet onto the back rooms of the store for desperately needed storage space. This will allow us to add some inside space- again not much, maybe 1500 SF.
Q- Will the expansion impact my patronage dividend?
It may. In years in which the Co-op is profitable, as we were in 2015, the BOD declares a patronage dividend. In the midst of an expansion project, it is possible the Co-op may not be profitable due to the extra expenses and perhaps even a decrease in sales, and therefore a patronage dividend may not be declared.
Q- What if you haven’t answered my question yet?
Please be patient, as probably we simply don’t know yet what the answer is. However you may contact the GM at any time and she/I will try my best to answer it with the information I have at that time: GM@foodcoop.coop or call 360-385-2883 x 303.