April Council Meeting Report

from Marilyn Chase, Council President

Council is continuing its work, although at a much slower pace. As a team, we are accustomed to conversing with each before and after meetings, when encountering each other in the stores, or while tabling. This new paradigm of only seeing everyone at web meetings with no incidental conversations has slowed our work significantly. I am realizing how much our work was discussed at these times, and that adjustments to our communications are necessary to maintain connection and discussion. At the April meeting, Council granted Hope Spithaler a three-month leave of absence. She will return to her role and regain her responsibilities commencing at the July Council meeting.

We approved the Council 2020-2021 annual work plan. This year we created our work plan in a spreadsheet format that includes all essential tasks of Council and when they must be completed to keep our work flowing. This format permits Council members to easily review our work, see necessary steps with deadlines, and know which committee or Council member is responsible.

Council monitored numerous C & D policies; C policies govern the behavior of council and D policies govern our relationship with the General Manager. Of the three C policies monitored, we found ourselves in compliance with policy C.0 (Global Governance Commitment) and out of compliance with policies C.3 (Council Work Plan) and C.4 (Council Meetings). Minor amendments were approved for both Policy C.3 and C.4 and Council reinforced responsibilities outlined in these policies.

As has been previously reported, Council altered the General Manager’s policy monitoring schedule due to the additional demands the pandemic has created. For the duration of the crisis, he is submitting weekly reports to Council, keeping us abreast of all concerns, changes, activities, and finances. B policy monitoring will resume after the health crisis passes.

Much time was devoted to discussion at this meeting. Everyone was very interested in the General Manager’s report and how our co-op is faring during these challenging times.

The GM report is summarized here:

GreenStar’s leadership team drafted a contingency plan to limit risk of potential shutdown due to illness and organization-wide impact, and to implement financially protective measures for staff. The specific measures have been reported elsewhere. We were updated on our relocation activities; here is an brief summary as of April 14 (most of these tasks will have been completed by press time):

• The Space is fully relocated.
• Administration staff are working from 770, except a skeleton crew needed at the West End.
• Warehouse usage is winding down to vacate late April.
• The sale of 700/702 West Buffalo Street is scheduled to close by the end of April.
• The City approved the staff parking lot on Esty St., which will be ready for use by late April.
• Full vacancy of the warehouse is planned by April 30 and of the West End campus by June 30. Vacating these buildings requires demolition and equipment removal to satisfy all agreements
• Crew is hard at work preparing for the opening of 770.
• Kitchen is fully functional, but the halt in prepared foods is holding back actual production.
• Retail shelves and equipment are set and running.
• We are finalizing our electronic data infrastructure, such as internet, POS system, phone system, etc.
• We are selecting product line and pricing methodology before placing orders and receiving goods.
• We are developing a sanitation protocol.
• We are creating a curbside pickup program with online ordering with no need to enter the store.

This oversimplification understates the tremendous amount of work still to be done in order to open up for business. We also have some major challenges. How will we adapt our new facility to all the current pandemic-related restrictions? How will our prepared foods program look with a major limitation on fresh self-serve foods? How will we adapt to being unable to use the cafe and playroom upon opening, which has been eagerly anticipated? We incorporated many features in our new store that we will be unable to enjoy for the immediate future.

We are greatly concerned about the financial stressors created by the pandemic. At the onset, we saw a burst in sales, followed by sales below expectations for this time of year. The safety measures instituted resulted in a lesser number of shoppers with slower movement through the stores. The costs of the payroll protection measures, safety measures, additional work credit for super-workers, coupled with the payroll increases for 2020 and increased operating expenses related to 770 Cascadilla St., all caused the largest cash loss in GreenStar’s history, in one week. It is critical that we open our 770 Cascadilla St. location as soon as possible to establish an increased revenue to cover our operating expenses. Yet, it is unlikely we will reach our projected sales until the pandemic restrictions have lifted. Luckily, we will receive an infusion of cash from the sale of 700/702 West Buffalo St. and the final draw from a Reinvestment Fund loan. These monies will help carry us through the erosion of a long-term unanticipated drop in revenue. We are looking for further methods of cost control. Council will assess and recommend amendments to both policy and bylaws to allow saving more cash from sales. This will ensure a more secure financial position and act as a buffer for a future emergency or crisis.

I have learned that cooperatives all across the United States are experiencing similar challenges. Many smaller co-ops have closed their doors to wait it out. Larger co-ops with multiple locations are doing as we have done — closing stores that are losing money and consolidating their services at their larger locations. Our situation is complicated by our relocation because there are so many moving parts, but we have a great team and the work to open 770 Cascadilla will shortly prove successful.

Next Council Meeting:

Tuesday, May 12 from 6:30-9:30 pm
Meeting will be held online — please email boardadmin@greenstar.coop for instructions on how to attend.
Member-Owners are always welcome!

Tentative Agenda Items:

  • GM monthly report
  • Ends report acceptance
  • Member petition procedure and petitions approval

Agenda is subject to change. To confirm items, see actual agenda posted online here: https://greenstar.coop/council-downloads/

Treasurer’s Report

By Krys Cail, Council Treasurer 

Hello GreenStar Member-Owners,

As this column is published, Governor Cuomo has called on New York State to limit all but essential workplace operations until May 15. Our Finance Committee meetings are on hiatus during this pause. This has been difficult, as the huge changes in our lives and the economic disruption of the efforts to combat the virus have all our members on edge, and more worried than usual about how the Cooperative fares in these tumultuous times. Members have been coming forward with more questions and concerns than usual.

One thing to remember is that the students being sent home from area colleges removes close to a third of the Tompkins County’s population. So, if there are so many fewer people to feed, there will be some impact to the outlets that supply food. Much of the customer base at our DeWitt Mall store is made up of people who work, shop, and recreate in the downtown area. While the NYS “pause” is in effect, the DeWitt location is no longer near where these regular shoppers are during the day. Additionally, all across our country, there has been a sudden surge in food being delivered from both local restaurants that have converted to delivery only, as well as “meal kit” type products that are produced elsewhere and shipped to home via mail delivery.
The financial plans for our 770 Cascadilla Street store were solid and reasonable at the last time that they were reviewed by the Finance Committee. A lot has changed since then and most locally-owned small businesses are going to be dependent on governmental business assistance programs to move forward. GreenStar’s operational team is already applying for the programs for which we qualify and hoping, like all other businesses, that the money will come soon.

Many of our members have ideas that seem to make sense to them about how to stem the lost revenue that GreenStar is experiencing due to the changes needed to respond to the pandemic. While it is necessary to consider permanent as well as temporary actions eventually, the time for new five-year plan examination is not in the middle of an emergency in which it is up to GreenStar maintain access to food, despite a Federal State of Emergency. Please email your ideas to Council at council@greenstar.coop. When the “pause” has lifted and the Council Finance Committee is back on the job we will review any ideas that are presented with a concept paper or Executive Summary.
Meanwhile, please take solace that our professional management team is working very hard to balance expenditures with revenues, which given the large drop in sales means a contraction in the workforce. There is, as I am sure that you have noticed, contractions in workforces throughout the economy. We hope that there is sufficient governmental relief extended to small businesses that this situation is only temporary.
The membership also has the assurance that, despite the pandemic, our auditors are giving a thorough look at the complex financial transactions the cooperative undertook during this past year, leading up to the opening of our new anchor store. Council will review their report when it is complete.
Also, when the “pause” has ended, your Finance Committee and Treasurer will be back on the job to provide oversight for member-owner, worker, and community needs as together, we try to recover our cooperative after the emergency. As individuals, we try to support our General Manager and his team in any way that we can, and we recognize that for now, getting settled in our new store must be their primary and only goal outside of continuing to provide food for people to buy under difficult circumstances.

Here is how you can help:

  • Politely counter any doom-and-gloom predictions you may be hearing or reading. Nobody knows precisely how and when governmental programs will kick in and those who predict catastrophe are likely just expressing their own cynicism about government, not any real analysis of GreenStar.
  • Shop with us! If you are not leaving the house and need delivery, try our Instacart store.
  • Purchase gift cards for later use. The gift cards are especially handy to give to helpers who may be shopping for you. If you can afford it, consider buying gift cards to give to friends and neighbors suffering job loss.
  • My fellow cooperative owners – we will meet again on the other side. We will still have all our experience, policy, operations team, and most of our workforce to regroup with then. Have faith in the resilience of our enterprise, and we will assess our financial fortunes together, once a bit of dust is settled. Thank you.