Unique Challenges

A Letter from the Co-op General Manager

To Our Community, 

Reusable Bags

As most of you know, beginning Wednesday, July 1, Vermont will require all retailers in the state to implement a mandatory 10-cent charge for paper bags. Our Engagement Team has been working with Operations to help our Vermont shoppers prepare for this change.

In the meantime, this presents a unique challenge for us in our White River Junction store. One of our first precautionary measures taken during the outbreak of COVID-19 was to ban the use of reusable bags—a New Hampshire law we implemented company-wide out of an abundance of caution, and consistent with our policies of operating in two states.

As you know, reusable bags are not only allowed in Vermont, they are also encouraged—all part of the state’s efforts to reduce the number of single-use products that end up in state landfills. The end result is that in light of the 10-cent bag charge, keeping the ban on reusable bags in place in our White River Junction store seems unfair to the store’s customers, in particular those experiencing some form of economic hardship, as it needlessly subjects them to an additional fee.

After several weeks of discussing the options, the leadership team made the decision to lift the ban on reusable bags in our White River Junction store. Please help us keep our employees safe by following these guidelines:

  • Customers must make sure their bags are clean. Obviously this is on the honor system to some degree, and we will trust customers to do the right thing and use clean bags just as we expect them to use clean masks.
  • Customers will be asked to pack their own bags. If employees are asked to assist, they will use rubber gloves.
  • Customers must never let bags out of their possession. This means customers should not put bags on the belt at checkout.

Remember, reusable bags are allowed in Vermont, not New Hampshire, so this change in policy applies ONLY to our White River Junction store. All New Hampshire stores will continue to abide by state laws that require a ban on reusable bags.

In addition, for our White River Junction customers who are experiencing some form of economic hardship, the Co-op will offer them, upon request, a brand new reusable bag at no cost should they not have their own or do not have them when they enter the store.

These changes will take effect on June 30th, 2020.

Masks

Last week, I wrote about the potential for a second wave of COVID-19. As I suggested then, this second wave may not even be “second” at all. In reality, we may find we are still in the first wave, and the plateau phase we are experiencing will be marked by a significant increase. All this remains to be seen.

Looking ahead, the leadership team has once again considered implementing the mandatory use of masks by all customers in all locations. I don’t have to tell you about the challenges that would go along with this type of policy. If you browse the internet, no doubt you have seen the videos of customers in stores nationwide, challenging businesses that require the use of masks. To say the least, it can get ugly, as some anti-mask activists are intentionally confrontational.

To be clear, we are not there yet. Most of our shoppers are courteous and respectful of our safety measures, including the use of masks. But some shoppers do choose not to wear them. Therefore, to further encourage shoppers to wear masks, we will start a pilot program in our White River store, beginning on June 30th, where an employee will greet shoppers and offer masks, at no charge, to those without a mask. We will judge the success of this program over the next week or two before deciding to roll it out to our other locations.

However, if we see a significant uptick in cases of COVID-19, in Vermont and New Hampshire, particularly in the towns within our services areas, we may have no choice but to implement a mandatory mask policy.

As always, I will keep you updated every step of the way. In the meantime, make no mistake, if we take this step, everyone’s safety and well-being will be our top consideration. No one wants to see employees in challenging confrontations with shoppers. We will put the resources in place we need to implement this policy safely. Playing bouncer will not become part of an employee’s job!

In the meantime, to all of our members, thank you as always for your support. Remember to be kind to one another and to yourselves. Stay strong, stay healthy, and stay positive. We look forward to serving you in our stores and at the curbside.

Onward and upward

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Paul Guidone

Paul Guidone

Paul Guidone, CFA, spent the better part of four decades in the investment management business here and abroad. He held positions ranging from analyst through Deputy Chairman and Group CEO, at organizations such as Citigroup (US) and The HSBC Group (London and Hong Kong). He joined the Co-op in 2016 as the CFO and in 2018 became Strategic Advisor to the General Manager. Paul was appointed Interim General Manager by the Co-op Board effective March 8th. To contact, email PGuidone@coopfoodstore.com.