Tuesday, February 12, 2013

2020 Vision Goal #3 - Get Better, Not Bigger ...

This coming Wednesday (February 13), beginning with some Pizza and Pop at 6.15pm, the Board of Weaver Street Market Co-operative will host an owners’ discussion on its putative Vision 2020 Goal 3 (see pic above).

I have already made some general points on the comment thread provided on Facebook [Comment #15]. I now set out some more specific issues, as an aide-memoire for the sort of things I’d like to be addressing this Wednesday:

1) Nowhere in general definitions, principles and values attributed to co-ops does it talk about the goal of invigorating downtowns nor building a chain of co-op outlets. What the ICA does state is that a co-op exists to serve the common needs of its owners. Where is there any evidence that the owners of WSM have requested invigorating downtowns or building new stores to meet their common needs? There is a possibility that ICA Principle 7 could cover Goal 3. But not as a definitive item. Only by way of broad interpretation. As such, it is arguable. And I do and will argue.

2) Nowhere in WSM’s Mission Statement does it demand that WSM invigorate downtowns nor build a chain of outlets, other than in the vaguest, most general terms. As such, and once again, if it is a question of interpretation, we are all entitled to contribute to the interpretation, not just the Board, nor its corporate office.

3) I will be asking bluntly why it is the purpose or desire of WSM to spend time and money invigorating downtowns and building new stores. Frankly, the only reason I can see is to generate more sales, perhaps to pay down the capital debt (still some $6 million) and/or to render the Food House (the primary cause of the capital debt) financially viable.

Here is where we enter the realm of philosophic difference. I do not believe it is the purpose of any co-op to mimic conventional retail corporations, and strive to generate sales just for the sake of making money. We exist solely to serve the common needs of our owners.

If somehow, in some way, we made mistakes in the past, which have left us burdened with debt, or have caused the creation of a financially unviable aspect of our co-op, then we address those problems in a sustainably systemic fashion; not by resorting to traditionally unsustainable practices of conventional capitalism.

All this constant push, push, push for sales does is create an overburdened and unhappy work force, which I maintain we have. And it takes energy away from our focus on truly co-operative goals.

Now, let me emphasize that, when I say the Food House may not be financially viable, that is no reflection on the workers in the Food House, who are great people, performing miracles every day. It is a comment upon the financial equation in which they find themselves, and over which they are allowed no control.

4) Rather than spending time, money and worker energy raising money to build more stores, I would prefer that we (A) pay off the debt left over from the ‘invigoration’ and store/Food House-building of 2008 (as I say, still some $6 million, on which we workers have to find some $500,000 in bank interest each and every year – all of which is exported outside of our communities); (B) do what is necessary to make what we already have work better; and (C) make life easier for our workers, so that they are encouraged to contribute more with carrot, not stick (we still do not have a living wage).

5) The goal of building more stores necessarily conflicts with the ICA and our Mission Statement requirements that we be community-based. How can we possibly have the same community interests as Raleigh or Durham or Fuquay-Varina (all suggested possibilities for new stores)?

6) If there is a genuine belief that we can better serve the regional farm-to-fork system which we avidly support as a co-op, then I say we can better do so as a loose association of stand-alone and truly community-oriented co-ops than as an empire.

Now, since we are on the subject of making our existing stores more vibrant and fun, and since I am as shamelessly proficient at self-promotion as WSM, let me say that I think any downtown would be invigorated by a performance of me as POP VOX. And you can prove the same by attending my next Beach Party/Gig ...

[I am a Worker-Owner with Weaver Street Market Co-operative (Hot Bar/Southern Village), and these are my personal views. As always, you can find other thoughts on how I believe WSM can be a stronger business and a better co-op elsewhere on this co-op blog.]