Run Your Local Gocery Store

Weaver Street Market's Annual Meeting is tonight at Panzanella at 7:00 pm (I think). This is an opportunity for the people who shop and work there to govern the co-coperative institution (theoretically) by selecting the Board of Directors. In the past, the Board election has been an insulated affair, with the current board choosing their colleagues and offering the membership little more than a rubber stamp.

Unfortunately, I can't attend. But I hope someone will and give us a report. I don't think you have to be an owner to attend. Will it be more of the same?



I attended the Weaver Street Market annual meeting. Most of the meeting was spent on a board presentation on financial matters and member breakout sessions to discuss them.

At the heart of the issue was the desire of the board to have additional working capital. The weakness of the event was the lack of any specific information on what that capital was needed for.

The board-member facilitating my session was not much help. She suggested that it might be used for paying down debt. Later, she offered that it might improve WSM's position for receiving loans. A bit of a contradiction.

Basically, the board is interested in replacing the purchase discount received by members with an end-of-year dividend. The dividend option allows the board to, at its discretion, give less of a benefit to members and retain more earnings for [???]. The coop I belonged to In Iowa City, by the way, gave both.

The other related question was increasing the membership fee (from $75-135 to $250) to generate more capital. The justification for this that I recall was one tied to inflation. Again, the Iowa City coop has retained its $60 membership fee and recently resoundingly defeated a ballot issue to increase it.

It is important to recognize that the membership fee and discount are important financial factors for many WSM members. In particular, low income households can eat very healthfully basing their diet around discounted organic bulk foods available at WSM.

It's hard for me to imagine supporting either of these proposals without a very compelling justification based on the articulation of specific problems with or opportunities for WSM's capital.

The other matter discussed in the breakouts was whether the current distribution of earnings reflected the organization's values. I was impressed at the strong support to community groups and return to owners while still retaining significant earnings.

Wow. This is the same organization that has expanded into another store and an italian restaurant with no direction from it's members (it's owners I should say), and now they suddenly want more money? Maybe they shouldn't have spent it on two extra businesses that the co-op owners never asked for.

I will sure be pissed if they reduce my benefits (or raise new members' fees) to support projects I never endorsed.

Thanks for going and giving us this report, Dan!

I have significantly reduced my shopping at WSM over the last year. I used to buy the majority of my weekly groceries there. I knew I was paying more, but I wanted to support the co-op, local producers, and organic producers.

Clearly, I am willling to pay a premium for products based on my values. However, I'm not willing to pay a premium on products so a co-op can open multiple business ventures. Besides those Ruby mentioned, WSM has also provided a loan to El Chilango, supported WCOM community radio, and been involved with Weaver Community Housing. If I want to support social venture capitalism, I'll become a philanthropist. All I really wanted was to belong to a co-operative grocery store.

I'd recommend they lower their store prices and keep the membership fee the same.

I think it is important for thriving cooperatives to provide assistance to nascent ones. This is in line with the principle in the coop movement called "cooperation among cooperatives."

That said, I do not know enough about WSM's financial participation in other coops to make a judgment.

Whatever its limitations, WSM does more good in this community, economically and socially, than any other grocery store, and quite possibly more good proprotionate to its size than any other business. I agree with Ruby's questions about its expansionist philosophy but find the overall balance to be quite positive.

I just wish they would change some of their recipes.. there's been the same food in the hot bar for at least five or six years now. And their scones are terribly inferior to WF's. I'm generally in favor of their various non-grocery ventures -- except for Panzanella, which is disappointingly mediocre, or at least it was the last time I went there more than four years ago.

I don't know much about the details of the spin-off business ventures, but I consider it healthy economic activity. The business ventures are locally conceived and locally owned, as well as being based on a co-op model.

A major source of social rot in our society is the corporate economy that dictates economic realities to us from afar, is hell to communicate with, and pipes our money out-of-town. I believe local control of our economy is essential to, not only a more vibrant community, but quite possibly surviving the fan-driven excrement that will likely be launched at us all in the not-too-distant future.

Mark, I agree that some of the things WSM have been really great and beneficial to the community. Like supporting the Weaver Community Housing Association, for example. But how is Panzanella "based on a co-op model?" As an owner, I don't even get a discount there, not mention any input on the menu or how it's run.

What do current coop members think of the proposed changes to the ownership investment system? My initial reaction is that raising the share cost from $75 to $200 when a new alternative (EarthFare) has just entered the market is not a particularly wise move.

Terri, I have a column on the proposals coming out in the Herald this Saturday. I'm on the road so won't comment much before then.

I hadn't heard about that new increase. Part of why we moved to SV was because they had a Weaver Street within walking distance, but $200 is just crazy. I guess we'll go back to driving and hit Whole Foods and EarthFare more often - and only frequent Weaver Street in dire emergencies (out of diapers, out of wine, you know EMERGENCIES!).
By the way, where did you hear about this?

Terri, where did you find out about these proposed changes? This is the first I've heard of it.

As a WSM owner for over 10 years, I apparently still don't merit being notified of major decisions...

I received WSM's proposal and process for consideration in the mail. I think it came yesterday.

I got the mailer last week and they have handouts at the cash registers about the meetings for the next two Mondays.

I have never received a piece of mail from WSM. You would think as a homeowner, I'd be pretty easy to find.

Anyway, thanks for the heads-up y'all. I'll check it out next time I'm in there (and will give them my address again).


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