Cooperation At Work

Recently, I had time to walk through our new site on North Barstow Street in Eau Claire; the lights were dimmed, and no one else was in the building. It was so quiet in there, and everywhere I looked, I got the feeling that there is just so much to do before we open our doors at 11:00am on October 11th. But there was a peacefulness moving between all the chaos in each part of our new home, and that was the knowledge that even though it seems impossible, it will all come together. It will come together because of the tremendous amount of cooperation that ours and co-ops all over the country are built on.

Over the next two weeks, we will build our shelves and place $500K’s worth of orders to fill them. Some of those orders will be the biggest we have ever placed with our local partners. We will run our new dishwasher 1,000 times as we set up our bulk bins and all our kitchen tools. We will continue to interview and hire some great candidates. We will run many new employee orientation and training sessions. We will print 10,000 shelf tags and put them each in the correct spot. We will set up new equipment and learn new things. Then the food will start to come! First packaged groceries, then long-dated cold items like frozen, all the way up until the day before we open when we set our beautiful produce shelves. We will set up six new lanes of cash registers and thirty new computers. Well, you know the list goes on and on, but it is going to come together.

We will be welcoming cooperation from our friends at Outpost Food Co-op, Saint Peter Food Co-op, Viroqua Food Co-op, Chequamegon Food Co-op, Keewanaw Co-op, Open Harvest Food Co-op, and more. These people will come and help us because they’ve been through it before and they know how hard it is, or they’re about to go through it and want to learn. Alongside them, we have about thirty new employees, and I don’t think I can find words to describe how excited I am for you to meet our new co-op stars! We were inundated with applications, and it was easy to find a group of smart, talented, happy, creative culture matches. We’ll have some co-op owners helping us as well, and we will have hundreds of hours of help from the National Co+op Grocers Cooperative.

And very importantly, we have the steadfast leadership and hard work of our staff in Menomonie—There has been a long period of attention on Eau Claire, and our department managers Rachel Kopp, Jen Wright, Rebecca Buehler-Yount, and Lynnette Bryant-Thompson, and Store Manager Layne Qualy have only improved our ability to serve our Dunn County customers.

And then there is you! Thinking back to the opening in 2015 I remember how our owners and customers treated us in those first days, weeks, and months. We received cards, flowers, chocolates, hugs, smiles, high-fives, thank-yous, and mostly we received support through shopping and patience. It will take time for us to learn the ropes of this much bigger operation, and the goodwill and patience of our customers will get us through. Currently (yes, there is still time to invest in the greatest thing to hit downtown Eau Claire!) we have over 400 owners that have invested in Class C Shares to fund our endeavor of true local, community ownership of such an important resource as a grocery store. This is the definition of a cooperative itself, and it sets us all up for the success of our co-op and the communities that we serve.

This article was originally published in the September/October 2023 issue of our bi-monthly newsletter, The Morsel. If you’d like to read more stories like this one and stay up to date on the latest co-op news and events, pick up a print copy in-store on your next grocery run or find more news on our website here.

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