A Letter from the Co-op General Manager
To our cooperative community,
A month ago, I wrote my first letter to Co-op members, sharing with you the initial changes we put in place to help keep our employees and shoppers safe during the COVID-19 outbreak. Since then I’ve updated members each week, and the list of social-distancing measures has grown considerably. It’s been a lot of change to adjust to, both for employees and shoppers alike. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for your patience and for supporting our employees during such a challenging time.
As you know, the health and safety of our community is our highest priority. One thing I’ve come to recognize is the cooperative network that makes all of this possible, and by that I mean we can only succeed if we work together. As employees, for example, there is only so much we can do. We need our members and shoppers to partner with us. All of the social-distancing measures we have put into place will only make a difference if people follow them.
I owe our members a great deal of gratitude here. I visit the stores regularly, both as an employee and a shopper, and I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen. Clearly most of our shoppers adhere to our social-distancing measures. Our employees have told me the same, with some estimating that 99 percent of our shoppers diligently practice social distancing. It’s good to hear. But as I reminded employees in an email this week, when it’s 100 percent, I’ll be happy. Even 1 percent can put all of us at risk.
So I write to you today to remind you to continue practicing social distancing and to be a good role model for your fellow members and shoppers. As you do that, know that at the Co-op we’re doing all we can to keep you safe while also making you feel welcome and at home. In return, I ask everyone to live up to the same standards you expect of Co-op employees. Specifically, pay attention to our social-distancing signs, stay at least six feet away from others, and please, when you’re in our stores, always wear a mask.
If you would prefer to avoid shopping inside the stores at all, you’ll be glad to know our curbside pickup program has expanded considerably. We now offer more days, more products, and more ways to pay. What started out as a handful of essential products has grown to a list of more than 100 items, and the list is expanding each week. You can browse the list and learn how to sign up on our website. Currently, curbside pickup is available Tuesday–Saturday at our Hanover store, but it will be coming to other locations soon as we build capacity. Next stop? Lebanon.
What else is coming to the Co-op? For one thing, we’re constantly reviewing our social-distancing protocols and thinking about what, if anything, we should try next. Sometimes that means spending a lot of time and effort studying a topic, only to determine it’s something we should NOT try next. Case in point: one-way aisles.
We know that many retailers have tried one-way aisles, with mixed results to say the least. We’ve been looking at this, too. We’ve had a team of employees analyzing traffic flow, length of aisles, width of aisles, and customer data to make informed decisions. After listening to a detailed proposal, reviewing a lot of data, and considering employee feedback, the leadership team made the decision not to implement one-way aisles.
The bottom line is we don’t have the space and layout to do it safely. We’re a wonderful old business, with older, smaller stores, and they aren’t laid out in a grid like modern big-box, warehouse-style retailers. Our space constraints and architectural layouts were never designed to even possibly implement one-way aisles. Imposing this would, quite simply, degrade the customer experience rather than improve it.
The good news is that we are keenly aware of how many shoppers our stores can accommodate at one time while still providing an environment for proper social distancing. We believe that if our shoppers would universally follow the social-distancing protocols we already have in place, one-way aisles would not be necessary.
Even if we were able to implement one-way aisles, we could only do it in one store (Lebanon). By not being able to implement one-way aisles in our other stores, shoppers looking for one-way aisles would likely seek out the Lebanon store, which would put even more pressure on the store, its shoppers, and its employees, degrading our current social-distancing efforts. We envision an environment with one-way aisles that is chaotic, unwelcoming, and less safe, not more. That said, we’re implementing our own creative solutions. We’re looking at spaces we can change and aisles we can reconfigure to make more space and accommodate more people safely within social-distancing guidelines.
All of the teamwork that goes into our decision-making is a reminder to me that we are indeed a cooperative community. Our stores serve a lot of people, provide markets for a lot of local growers, and collect donations for a lot of nonprofits. Like everyone else, our partners—farmers, food producers, and Upper Valley nonprofits in particular—are hurting right now. So I’d like to close today by asking our members to not only continue supporting the Co-op, but also to continue supporting our partners. Our Upper Valley farms and nonprofits are still running their operations, and they need community support. Each is responding to the virus differently and has different needs. If you’re wondering what you can do to help, reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our Outreach and Member Services teams will be glad to assist you.
A final note: If you haven’t voted yet, you have one week left. As I’ve written about before, this is a very important voting year. For one thing, we have six terrific candidates running for four open seats. But also this year, the Co-op Board of Directors is asking Co-op members to approve the financing needed to support a wide variety of critical upgrades our Co-op desperately needs. I look at it this way: Co-op employees are doing their best to support us during this challenging time. And this year, as members, we have an opportunity to support them. Please vote YES to approve the Board’s plan. You can learn more and vote online at our voting site, https://www.mycoopvote.com. Voting ends at 9 p.m. on April 30.
Take good care of yourselves, everyone. See you in the stores or at the curbside. Be well. Be safe.
Onwards and upwards,