Dear Co-op Members,
Happy June! After a trying year of shopping and working under various restrictions and high levels of stress, things are beginning to resemble pre-pandemic conditions here at the Co-op. It doesn’t feel right to describe anything these days as ”normal,” but certainly the level of risk has decreased significantly. We extend heartfelt appreciation to our members, shoppers, employees, and local vendors for working together to keep our community safe over the many weeks and months.
While the State and City are preparing to lift all restrictions soon, our co-op is taking a somewhat more cautious approach. We want to provide time for all of those who are eligible and want to be vaccinated, including some Co-op employees, to complete the process. We also know that children and those who are immunocompromised still face risk, so we prefer to err on the side of caution. Still, given the new climate, we feel comfortable gradually making changes to how we operate. Here is a summary of key adjustments that affect Co-op shoppers:
- We have increased the number of shoppers in the building at one time and will again in the coming weeks.
- On Monday, June 7, we will end the reserved 9-10 am hour for high-risk shoppers.
- Facial coverings will be required at the Co-op for the time being while we view the trade-off between community safety and inconvenience as beneficial.
- We are tentatively planning to begin opening at 8 am on July 5. A later opening time has been invaluable in getting ready before the shopping begins.
- We expect to reopen our food bar in July.
- We don’t expect to reopen our café for indoor seating until late July or early August. Currently, the space is being used for storage and employee workspace.
You can help us with these decisions by filling out our shopper interest survey. Thank you for your patience as we all gradually return to ”normal.”
You may be wondering how the Co-op has been faring financially through the pandemic, and I have good news to report. First of all, we are fortunate to be in the grocery business with food-at-home purchases up across the country. This, along with an influx of pandemic-related federal monies, has allowed us to maintain full employment, offer enhanced pay and benefits to our employees and emerge on solid financial footing.
Like many grocers, we saw an increase in sales of fresh produce and packaged grocery items this past year, which essentially offset substantial declines in prepared foods (deli). Employees rose to the many challenges and, in turn, received an extra $2/hour or more in addition to enhanced benefits since March 2020. We did a good job controlling discretionary spending. All told, we have generated a small profit over the past year.
This month we learned that our Paycheck Protection Program loan was forgiven and that we qualify to receive the Employee Retention Credit (ERC, tax credits offered to businesses that maintain employment despite pandemic restrictions) for 2020, the first quarter of 2021, and the month of April. The total value of the PPP loan is $1.2 million, with an anticipated $1.8 in Retention credits expected later this year. The monies from both of these sources has been spent on its intended use of compensating employees. Nonetheless, these funds greatly improve our overall financial position, and we are extremely appreciative. It is important to note that since these are one-time sources, they responsibly should be matched with one-time spending. We are considering various options for this, including paying off our bank loan early, catching up on capital improvements and maintaining a nest egg for the future.
There are still plenty of challenges in our future, but together we are faring about as well as a small independent business could expect to during a global pandemic. Thank you for all your support and cooperation over this past year.
Kari Bradley, General Manager