By Brandon Kane, General Manager

Living Wage Update

As we step into the New Year, I want to take this time to reestablish GreenStar’s commitment as an equitable and fair employer in our community. I’m proud of what GreenStar is able to achieve for our staff and for our member-owners. I know that a great deal of what we’re able to contribute is thanks to our cooperative model. I also understand that community organizations and cooperatives are often held to a higher standard than most businesses, because of our intimate connection with stakeholders and their communities.

One of the primary standards GreenStar and other co-ops have been held to is our commitment to be a fair-wage-and-benefits employer in the local workforce. GreenStar is unique among employers in that its governance policies require that we hold ourselves accountable to systems and actions that ensure we live up to this intention.

In 2005, GreenStar was the only large retailer in Tompkins County to be certified as a living wage employer. Although GreenStar is not currently certified, we’ve consistently used this same living wage calculator to adjust our base wage every other year, while providing a Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA) in the years between. After accounting for other benefits, such as a staff discount, we successfully realized an average 7.25% increase in wages each adjustment year. GreenStar’s 2020 wages represent a 6% increase over starting rates in 2019.

The grocery industry is known to be a low-margin business, which means there isn’t a lot of room to cover operating costs. As a result, conventional grocers try to keep personnel costs at a minimum in various ways. Common practices used by grocers include: paying minimum wage, offering a majority of part-time and fewer full-time positions, and not offering benefits to part-time employees. On average, conventional grocers maintain their total personnel costs at 13% of gross sales.

GreenStar’s personnel costs, however, routinely exceed 25% of total gross sales — and that is heavily weighed on our industry-leading wages. We employ more than 90 full-time and 65 part-time staff; all receive benefits including a discount on goods, paid time off, and medical and dental insurance plans. Even as the grocery market becomes ever more competitive and the pressure on our margins increases, GreenStar remains perhaps the only major retail employer in our region using a living-wage calculator to determine employees’ wages.

In 2020, GreenStar’s new base wage will increase to $14.28, which, according to Alternatives Federal Credit Union’s most recent Living Wage Study, represents the living wage for an individual whose employer provides health insurance, which GreenStar does for employees working 20 hours or more per week. All other hourly wage levels will increase in proportion to the new base wage. We estimate our 2020 wages to total about $6.1 million (more, including benefits), which provides clear evidence of our commitment to investing in our local economy.

It’s interesting to note that GreenStar’s ratio of wages from lowest to highest is only 4:1. You would be hard-pressed to find another retail business in the US that comes close to this level of equitable pay distribution. This is another compelling example of the cooperative difference at work.

Capital Campaign and Relocation Project Update

We expect to receive our Certificate of Occupancy for GreenStar’s new anchor store at 770 Cascadilla St. in the coming weeks. Our GreenStar team, developer, and contactors have worked hard throughout this project. As we near the final stages of this multi-year project, I’m proud that we’ve been able to successfully adhere to both our timeline and  budget.

Not only is our new flagship location a paradigm of sustainable development, it’s a gorgeous facility! We can hardly wait for you to see your new GreenStar. From the timber-frame entry to the constellation of LED-lit globes that float above our cafe, you’ll be delighted with the sights, experiences, and service that we’ll deliver to you.

Next, our teams will begin the heavy work of transitioning our operations to the new location. This requires relocating our central kitchen, warehouse, administrative operations, and retail store. Over the next couple of months, we’ll be testing our new equipment and systems and staff will be acclimating to the new work environment. Together we’ll prepare for a public opening, slated for this spring. While our goal is to transition with minimal interruptions to our business operations, we may need and will greatly appreciate your patience and understanding while we transition to our new home.

I wish to express my heartfelt gratitude to the investors who have demonstrated unprecedented community support to GreenStar’s capital campaign for this exciting and ambitious project. We’ve now reached our Fall goal of $2 million in member-owner investments to bring our new anchor store to the community. Your generosity and confidence in GreenStar have been remarkably inspiring and helped us push this project ever forward. And we’re not stopping at $2 million in investments — our ultimate goal is $2.5 million. Every dollar invested by our member-owners is a dollar we don’t have to borrow from a lender. If you’re interested in investing in this inspiring project, please contact our campaign coordinators at or take the easiest step of making a payment to reach your full owner equity of $90.

As we close on another dynamic year at the Co-op, I want to thank you for believing in GreenStar and trusting us to deliver on our commitment to the community.