Update from the River City Co-op Board of Directors (BOD)
Hello to our Co-op friends and community,
At our June 14th Board of Directors meeting, we voted to officially “close” River City Food Co-op. For those of you who are not aware of the history leading to this decision, allow me to explain:
In August of 2014 a new Point of Sales system was purchased for the (then) Co-op grocery store. The new system provided accounting reports previously unavailable to us in terms of report details and sophistication of types of reporting we could track. Over the next several months, as the new POS was tweaked to best suit the RCFC reporting needs, and as a new Treasurer joined the Board, we began to see in new detail, the financial challenges we faced. Natural Food Co-ops and small community stores across the country were also experiencing the effects of big-box chains selling “natural and organic” foods, in terms of fewer sales, and as well, RCFC faced its own unique challenges regarding location and size of our small (but charming) house/store space. We weren’t able to muster up the volume of members and customers that would carry us through. In addition, we experienced a several months-long disruption in the acceptance of SNAP/EBT cards from loyal shoppers, which left us with even fewer shoppers.
By the beginning of 2015, we were diligently attempting a turnaround – reorganizing the layout of the store, varying inventory, offering enticing value-shopping discounts, and engaging in community events which allowed for flurries of increased shopping, but it was not enough to pull us out of the slump we were experiencing. At the same time, we experienced a change in our offering of mid-week lunches, which added to the slower traffic in and out of the Co-op house. To be transparent, there were also difficult interpersonal issues that had arisen, which spread to the staff and some of our most loyal customers. It was a heart wrenching time of facilitation, discussion, soul searching and resolution.
After much discussion, a meeting was held in October of 2015, with our members and Co-op Community, at which the members of RCFC voted that RCFC would close it’s doors as a retail grocery space. The future was undecided, but the BOD had the support of the members in this difficult decision. We had significant debt to address as well as a disarray of inventory and assets.
Our debt to vendors was at $10,000, a tremendously high debt, which was intimidating of course. The work of the BOD was to explore options to pay this down. All of the vendors were contacted, to be brought up to date on our perilous situation. All expressed support of our situation and patience for our determination to pay the debt down. Over the next year and a half, from October 2015 to Now, the BOD has been diligently volunteering time and effort to create cash flow. We have held delicious dinners and bake sales, and fostered an active produce buying club and a wholesale deli from which we sold wraps and soups around the EVV area. Our debt is more than half paid off now, and we have enough reserve funds to pay the remaining debt. We are proud of this accomplishment, and appreciative of the generous and gracious volunteerism of our BOD and several community members who came together for these various successful offerings and happenings.
We were excited about the prospects of upgrading our certified kitchen to a commercial kitchen status, which we would then rent to food producers to not only create cash flow but also to continue to support healthful foods being provided to our community. We were nearly there with the funding required for the installation of a commercial-grade grease interceptor, per the County Health and Water Department code.
Then the coalescence of two situations put a halt on our efforts:
Patchwork Central, who owns our house, has understandably determined that our very low rent was compromising the stewardship of their own resources, leading to the calculation of a fair market value lease agreement. It is imperative at this juncture to state that Patchwork, from whence the Co-op was begun over 10 years ago, has been extremely generous and supportive of RCFC during these difficult times. We completely understand their need to capture fair market value on this property. The new rent increase is not tenable for RCFC, given our meager cash flow.
The other issue is the changing dynamic of our BOD. Because of life events, BOD members’ ability to participate is always an ebb and flow, but more recently for us, we’ve had an ebbing that has rendered us with fewer volunteers for the buying club, deli and dinner events. The collective efforts are always taken on with love and mutual respect, yet there continues to be much to do regarding our moving forward – with fewer people who can contribute to the “to do’s”.
So now, here we are. We’ve given notice to Patchwork Central that we will be out of the Co-op house by the end of July. We are going to sell remaining assets, such as the POS, shelving, old refrigerators, table/chairs, etc. Anyone who is interested, or knows people in the food industry who might be interested in our kitchen equipment and furnishings, please get in touch! We will make the final payments to our vendors. We will file with the State of Indiana so that the business side of RCFC is officially done. We will wrap up the bookkeeping. Our website and FaceBook page will be turned off. We will undertake all of this while our hearts are filled with joy and gratitude, and a sense of bittersweet endings all mixed with pride for what we have managed to accomplish over these past 18 months.
As the BOD President since January of 2015, it has been an honor to work with all of our BOD members, current and past, as well as to have represented River City Food Co-op over these past 3.5 years during which time I have been on the Board.