Board of Directors Report: A Gathering Place

  | Board of Directors, Food For Thought

Ok, it’s no secret — I hope, anyway — that I’m a realtor, have been for the last 15 years. I often get to entertain people from out of our area who are considering living in and/or around Brattleboro; it’s actually fun to be a tour guide, as I get to talk up my favorite everythings of life up here in what many, maybe most, consider to be “the boonies.” I show people our wonderful array of restaurants, stop at the New England Youth Theatre if the buyers have kids, wave to and talk about New England Center for the Circus Arts, cruise the neighborhoods, give interested parents a view of the schools, point out the Farmer’s Market, expound on the Literary Festival weekend, wow people with the Harris Hill ski jump, and show off Sam’s, and the Latchis Theatre with its great range of movies, Art Deco styling and real butter on the popcorn, if you want it. My real favorite, big surprise, is talking to these potential newbies about the Brattleboro Food Co-op. Honest! Why?

First, I love our Co-op! Oddly enough, I wasn’t tied into co-ops at all when Kate, our 4-month old Tyler, and I moved to town from CT, but I was then hired to be the first Retail Sales Manager at Northeast Cooperatives (aka NEC). I drank the kool-aid very soon thereafter, working with the BFC and all of the consumer co-ops that were owners of NEC. I became especially close to this co-op, and got to know many/most of the staff and how things were being run. I followed Kate’s lead and became a member-owner of the Brattleboro Food Co-op — not early enough to compete with Alex Gyori’s member # 1, but I’m proud of being in the first 1,000; we’re now in the 12,000’s.

Anyway, I suggest that visitors and potential buyers go grab a cuppa whatever and sit in the café and watch who shops at the Co-op, to get an idea of who lives in our community. Really, community is what has always attracted me to this area, and especially to our Co-op; I tell these prospective immigrants that this area is the best place to raise a family, because of the…community. (To slightly enlarge the vintage maxim: it takes a village to raise…a family. I always have appreciated knowing that all of you had my parental back, and helped us grow up as a family in a very supportive environment.) And the Co-op is the pinnacle of community, an organization founded by and for the member-owners, all working together to provide goods and services for each other. We gather around the most basic commodity, food, but the Co-op provides so much more.

Yeah, I’m a gluten-free vegetarian who primarily shops for and eats organically, so this is where I do pretty much all of my shopping. But the over 7,000 member-owners of this Co-op buy much more than what fits my narrow and eclectic diet. We have an excellent deli, that offers breakfast, lunch, dinner and fresh pastries(!). Our Bulk department has the best selection of dried fruit, nuts, grains, flours, and herbs that I’ve seen anywhere — and I’ve shopped a lot of stores! Grocery, frozen, incredible produce, and a great Wellness department bring us all in, often many times a week, which is cool in and of itself. I spot my fellow frequent-flyers who are in the aisles more than once a week, because you’re always here when I’m here. Shopping at the Co-op is a very social occasion — for better or worse, I can rarely just dash in and pick up that one item, unless I bury my chin and try not to look at anyone. My family doesn’t like to shop with me, because I talk to almost everyone. We all get to see our friends and neighbors when we’re in this store, as the Co-op is a gathering place, a cornerstone of our community.

Lots of people take advantage of the free Wi-Fi, eat a meal while quietly working on their laptops and smartphones. Besides chatting in the aisles, conferences happen over meals in our café daily, and larger groups use the Community Room for their meetings. Really, the Co-op is a hub for our neighbors, associates, and friends we have yet to know.

I was in retail for many years, so my OCD kicks in when I take an item off the shelf, and I have to bring forward the next one from behind to fill the empty slot. What I really appreciate is seeing other shoppers doing the same — this shows real ownership and a commitment to our Co-op, trying to help as we are able! I don’t see this happening in other stores, but we do it here.

I spoke with Annie in Shareholder Services, signed up for a double-shift of bagging two days before Thanksgiving — one of my favorite Co-op jobs, actually. Annie’s response: “you must really love us!” Yes, I do — and I’m happy to tell visitors how important this Co-op is to me and our community; I can tell you from experience that visitors are impressed, and that our Co-op helps people want to move here and be part of this community!

By John Hatton