Los Alamos Co-op copes with setbacks

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By Gina Velasquez

Since its inception in 2007, the Los Alamos Co-op Market has been part of the community.
However, 2015 has been a tough year, which is the consensus from several board members and some employees.
A slew of administrative changes has plagued the co-op in recent months, including the unexpected death of the newly appointed general manager Scott Brelsford in November. A decline in revenue is evident due to the Smith’s Marketplace moving into town.
“We knew would see a decline, but it didn’t help having all the internal issues,” said Board President Tracy McFarland.
She expressed her feelings about Brelsford’s death.
“He was so young and had such great ideas,” McFarland said.
The decline in the co-op’s business was brought to the attention of the Los Alamos Monitor from concerned citizen Steve Snapp. In his letter to the editor, Snapp wanted to make the community aware of the issues the co-op has had and how the public can help.
“People have other choices,” Snapp said. “Please consider eating at the co-op more often and shifting some of your grocery dollars to the co-op,” Snapp wrote. “In our family we’ve tried to double our visits to the co-op vs. shopping Smith’s, or Santa Fe.”
Other tips from Snapp included being flexible with grocery options and sending feedback to becoming a member.
The deli has undergone improvements, such as adding more options available in the grab-and-go case, improving the consistency and quality of the food and providing a clearer labeling of the food.
Newly appointed Deli Manager Chris Laino is on hand every Sunday with made-to-order omelets from 10:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. The brunch began in November and has been a success. “There are not many places for breakfast in Los Alamos, besides a burrito,” Laura Kelly, co-op member and former volunteer.
The plan is to continue the omelet brunch indefinitely. The cost is $10 for an omelet and a drink. There are also vegan options available. “We are seeing a lot more people coming in for this,” Current Interim General Manager Rebekah Valentine said. “We look forward to seeing more in the future.”
Volunteer opportunities at the co-op has been on the decline as well, but incentives remain for volunteers in the form of discounts.
Board Treasurer Karen Kendall said the co-op has a different vibe than most big box stores. “You are in more familiar surroundings,” she said. Kendall has been a member of the co-op and has held many positions on the board since its opening in 2007. “The co-op is a valuable resource, owned by its members,” Kendall said. It carries a staff of about 30 and supports local vendors.
The co-op property still carries a National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Wildlife Habitat designation, which was organized through former Outreach Programs Manager Sandra West last year.
Besides the plea for local help, the co-op is receiving operational guidance from the National Cooperative of Grocers (NCG).
Valentine has been working closely with NCG to help improve the shopping experience, working with employees to build morale, how to lower costs and provide training. A consultant from the Iowa-based company has agreed to weekly visits to the co-op and work with the staff toward improvements.
Valentine said that things are different than before. Despite the series of setbacks, the co-op continues to draw in new members, she said. However, sales for November were down 17 percent compared to the same time last year. December numbers are not yet known.
In the past, there were several events and classes, such as the Shop with a Chef cooking class, chile roasters and the Saturday Farmers Market. All have discontinued for the moment.
As for it continuing in the future, Valentine said so far there is no plan to get these events back, excluding the chile roasting because that is a seasonal event. The cooking classes stopped due to space issues inside the building. The Farmers’ Cooperative Market was comprised of four vendors: Camino de Paz, Monte Vista Farm, Tesuque Pueblo Farm and Shepherd’s Lamb. Each has stopped selling at the co-op for various reasons.
For those who turn to Smith’s because of the cost, Kelly said that Smith’s is not always cheaper. Produce quality is better at the co-op, although there might be less of it, she said. “Maybe people don’t realize (the co-op) is in jeopardy. If the public knew, there would be more support.”
Monthly board meetings for the co-op are on every fourth Wednesday of the month, and all members and owners are welcome to attend. To become a member, cost is $39.19 for an annual membership.