Following a “multitude of meetings” that took place in the final months of last year, members of the Plainfield Co-op voted not to move the community-owned grocery store from its current location on 153 Main Street, co-op committee member Kevin Levesque said.
After plummeting into debt in October 2018, the neighborhood co-op considered several alternative business strategies, including selling its Main Street building and moving to a more visible location, or attempting to partner with Hunger Mountain Co-op in Montpelier. Levesque said members voted “overwhelmingly” to stay in the current building and “invest in the building and invest in our staff.”
“We restructured our scheduling and staff, and we put a lot of new efficiencies in place,” Levesque said. “I also put out our insurance to bid for the first time in a decade and we saved thousands of dollars there.”
Levesque said the co-op’s financial challenges were caused by high labor costs and the store’s remote location on a street that sees little traffic. As a result of the co-op’s money struggles, “our general staff is probably not paid what they deserve,” he said.
“We have a very large labor budget for the style of business we are and the size of business we are,” Levesque explained. “And that’s because the majority of work here is done by our staff members as opposed to having vendors come in and stock their own products like conventional grocery stores have.”
Increasing staff compensation is one of the co-op’s primary goals in 2020, Levesque said.
In an effort to make the store more visible and attract new customers, the co-op may add to its current sign on Main Street.
“There are many zoning regulations in the state of Vermont, so we can’t just pop up a sign on Route 2, unfortunately,” Levesque said. “We’re hoping to expand on our sign on Main Street, because currently it is one-sided and that way we don’t have to fall into that regulation area, if we’re just giving a backside to it.”
Additional efforts to promote community engagement include a recently formed volunteer marketing committee and a monthly newsletter.
“We’ve had much more regular communication with our membership,” Levesque said. “This year we’re hoping to get a vinyl sign on the side of our building, and we hope to paint the building within the next few years.”
Levesque said that because of internal restructuring the co-op is no longer in debt and, despite several ongoing challenges, has no need to move from its current location.
“One of the huge benefits of being where we are is that we own the building,” Levesque said. “We don’t pay a mortgage or anything like that. So the focus now is to get our balance sheet back in order and build capital, and go from there.”
While members are optimistic about the store’s future, Levesque said the co-op is “still developing long term plans.”