Questions Remain as Co-Op Members Vote on Village Market Purchase

by Doug McClure
photo by Doug McClure Buffalo Mountain Co-op members are voting on whether to purchase the Hardwick Village Market at the Co-op’s 2021 annual vote through October 24.

HARDWICK – The Buffalo Mountain Co-op has opened its 2021 annual vote. From October 10 through October 24, members are being asked to vote on several items, with the one receiving being the most attention being “Do I support the purchase of Hardwick Village Market for an estimated cost of $1 million to include purchase price, inventory, closing costs, renovations and relocation of the current store?”

The board held two meetings intended to bring the wider Hardwick community into the discussion with the hope of “blending” the co-op community and the larger Hardwick one. One member of the community who had been vehemently opposed to the co-op buying the Hardwick Village Market (HVM) said over the weekend that their opinion had moderated, but they were not happy with the way several co-op members described the wider community. At the last community forum on September 27, one co-op member described people who shop at the Market as “lesser folk,” adding that they had formerly counted themselves as a member of that group.

Some Co-op members have raised concerns about the accuracy of the Co-op’s feasibility study, with one member telling the Gazette they were “so sick of hearing about the feasibility study.” Questions remain about “blending” the communities and product lines and some are not convinced that the financial models will work. 

At the Co-op’s annual meeting on Sunday, two members reported that its own accountant for decades, Michael Haveson, was not consulted about the feasibility study. Haveson posted to a public forum “Having watched the two recorded previous public meetings on the expansion: meetings that appeared more like pep rallies than nitty gritty, do the numbers really work [discussions], [it] is fair to say that few difficult questions with respect to the true financial viability have been asked and answered by the board … and I believe that should provide serious pause to the voting members.”

One member posted in a public forum that the vision of offering both the Hardwick Village Market’s conventional product line and the Co-op’s offerings side-by-side was “romantic” and “a financial and a cultural assumption. The coop has a reputation as elitist and exclusionary. In reality, our staff are unfailingly welcoming and courteous.”

The member added “In fact, there’s something elitist about the idea that we will ‘diversify’ by offering what we’ve heretofore considered crappy food. It’s a bit like a longtime white organization ‘inviting’ people of color to join and expecting them to forgive all past offenses — then being surprised when POC don’t come. I’m sure our board is aware of this problem, but the question is: what to do about it? We should stay where we are and work to change our culture.”

Another member posted “Expansion assumes that HVM customers will remain loyal to that location even if the co-op owns it. The feedback I get from friends who now shop at HVM is that they will go to Tops instead. The reason they don’t shop at the co-op has less to do with price and selection and more to do with the fact that they have been made to feel unwelcome there. This should cause us to reflect about the cultural divide in town, and whether the co-op can bridge that divide simply by expanding its product selection.”

The member later posted that without the wider community voting for the move, “HVM’s customers will feel colonized by the co-op.” 

Many members continue to support the acquisition, per a special edition of the Co-op’s Fall 2021 “Bullsheet” released on Sunday. But others remain unconvinced, with one describing the proposed move by stating “I am more than a little puzzled as to how the current board thinks they can make this boondoggle work financially.”