November 2017: submitted by Ori Fifield on behalf of the Board of Directors
Things are beginning to move quickly as plans for the expansion become more concrete. For those of you unable to join us for our annual meeting, here’s the latest expansion news: Below, you can see the basic elevations that have been drawn up showing the scope of the proposed expansion to the Co-op’s footprint. The plan is to add a small “bump out” on the west (parking lot) side of the building and a 25 foot addition on the the east (Route 5) side. The west side bump out will bring all of our office space together and move all primary work spaces out of the basement…and it will not infringe on the parking area. The larger part of the project has five main objectives; more seating, more bathrooms, more kitchen space, more grab & go options and improved flow in the deli area. In addition to allowing all of us to wrap our heads around the scope of the project, these drawings allow us to get the permitting process rolling. We are required to have both a site plan, which needs approval from the town, and an Act 250 permit. Pip reports that both permits have been applied for; there are no known red flags with either and firm answers are expected within a month.
With the pro forma (a spreadsheet tool to calculate the outcome of varying levels of success) that was created for us in the spring, Robyn has run reasonable case scenarios and poor case scenarios. Based on this data and the current and recent financials of the Co-op, the Board is confident that even with a poor/mediocre outcome, the Co-op is in a position to handle the expense without any unmanageable burden. The expansion is expected to cost $500-600K. I know that’s a bit of a range, but the reality of construction is that you never know exactly how much it’ll cost until you’re done, and the plan is not yet set in stone. For the past few years, Robyn has been putting money aside weekly with this project in mind and this year she has increased that amount to reflect the loan payment we’ll have when the project is complete.
The Co-op has $115K in the bank earmarked for this project. The board has authorized Robyn to secure financing for the rest and she has done so through The Cooperative Fund of New England (CFNE). They are a cooperative bank and the interest we pay goes to help other coops. They are excited to do business with us and their lending methods are tailored to the needs of growing coops from startups to established, thriving Co-ops like ours.
Once our permits are approved the search will be on for an architect and a construction manager. Robyn and the Expansion Committee will work with them over the winter to finalize details of the building itself and get contractors lined up for groundbreaking in the spring. In the meantime they will also continue their work with Nicole Klimek, our store design expert from CDS Consulting Co-op, to optimize our plan for how to use the space that is created. The goal is to have our new and improved deli/kitchen area in full swing in the summer of 2018.
We had a great turnout at our first annual meeting at Next Stage with a delicious harvest supper prepared and served by our fantastic staff. We asked the members to share with us the things that are working and also the challenges for them currently in the cafe area. We heard some concerns which we know Robyn and the staff will be right on top of for you – like alternative milks and more honey at the self serve coffee bar – and some things we won’t have answers about until more of the plan comes together or more of the construction is complete, like outdoor seating. We heard that you love the staff (we do, too!) and some of the recent improvements we’ve made to the Deli area such as the consolidated coffee bar and better access to the Hot Bar! We heard there were a few of you who didn’t know about burger night, which might put you on Jack MacKay’s naughty list – you must not be following us on Facebook! It’s on Thursdays from 4-7 and you will not be disappointed!
The Board plans to hold an information session in the new year to update interested member-owners and community members on the project’s progress. We look forward to seeing you! We’ll continue to update you here with any news we have to share before then.
September 2017 – Submitted by Ori Fifield, on behalf of the Putney Food Co-op Board of Directors
At our Spring retreat, the Board learned more about expansion planning, including the options for project financing and assessing organizational readiness. We came to shared agreements about the scope of Robyn’s decision-making authority for this project and at which points it is essential for the Board to give the “Aye” before the project can move forward. We reaffirmed that we are accountable to the Co-op membership and we plan to proceed in a manner that is both fiscally responsible and forward thinking.
While plans for the Deli Expansion percolate, Robyn and the staff are hard at work streamlining existing store systems so we hit the ground running when the expansion comes to fruition next year.
Some of the changes you might have noticed this summer include:
- Redesigned deli and hotbar menu
- Shifting elements in the deli/cafe area to improve flow
- A new coffee brewer and salad bar
- Less congestion in the parking lot
- .. our new head chef, Caelum Massicotte, arrived in July and brings a wealth of culinary experience
Robyn and an Expansion Planning Team are meeting on a weekly basis. They bring a variety of knowledge to the table, including architecture, construction, Act 250 and permitting processes, finances and project planning, and are tasked with supporting Robyn as she needs them during this process.
One of my favorite things about being part of the Co-op Board is the cooperation. To quote Bob Dylan “the times they are a-changin’”. In a world where I see some people pulling apart and separating from one another, it inspires me to see the bevy of consultants who come together to share their in depth knowledge of co-op operations, to know that if we need to borrow money, it comes from a cooperative bank that uses its’ profits to help other co-ops and to know that increased sales in our Co-op means more local purchasing, more good jobs, more healthy food eaten and a healthier, more vibrant community makes my heart truly happy.
April 2017 – Submitted by Ori Fifield, on behalf of the Putney Food Co-op Board of Directors
For the past 4 years the Co-op Board and our General Manager have been honing our vision for the future of the Putney Food Co-op. We are acutely aware of the need for improvement in the deli and cafe area and for improved flow throughout the store. In 2013, we launched a market study and hired National Co+op Grocer Development Coop to do a pre-expansion feasibility study and plan for us. A $1.5 million dollar expansion and renovation was proposed, but after careful consideration, we realized that the scope of the project was out of balance with Putney’s needs and had been inflated by the increase in sales due to the relocation project at the Brattleboro Co-op and the closing of the General Store.
While it was clear the initial larger, more costly, project wasn’t in our collective best interest, we still had a congestion issue in the store and untapped potential in our Deli; something still needed to happen. We went back to the drawing board with a focus on a streamlined project that would meet all key needs, optimize our potential and be fiscally responsible.
Our General Manager, Robyn O’Brien, and her Department Managers have been working with a Deli/Prepared Food specialist and a store designer who work nationally with CDS Consulting Co-op to look at how we can maximize the space we currently have as well as some additional space to serve our members and shoppers in ways that best meet your needs. They are building on the insights and lessons from the improved productivity allowed by the minor kitchen remodel and refining of systems last year. A conceptual design is underway and will be discussed with the store designer.
A proforma – a detailed financial spreadsheet that models anticipated results based on different scenarios – has been designed for our store. Robyn is working with the experts we have access to through our co-op associations to ensure that we move forward in a way that is dynamic and responsive to our community.
The Board is building our knowledge of how a major improvement project like this happens and we are planning an all day retreat in the coming weeks to discuss the project. One of the things we will be examining is the various ways to finance a project like ours and what is in the best interest of our cooperative and members.
As we stand on the threshold of the next era of the Putney Food Co-op, we look forward to hearing your thoughts on the project. We plan to have more information to share with you in the near future; space will be dedicated in the store and online to keep members up to date as things progress. One of the essential measures of our success as a co-op is the good we are able to do in and around Putney. We’re excited for this opportunity to grow our Co-op and the ripple effects that growth has into our community through more healthy, local food available to members and shoppers, more quality jobs in the store and increased local purchasing.