The Sopris Sun

Carbondale Community Food Co-op looks to future

Important membership meeting April 30

By John Colson

Sopris Sun Staff Writer

Members of the Carbondale Community Food Co-op are being invited to take part in an upcoming meeting of the membership and managers of the organization, and while some might have worried that the meeting could bring out some bad news, those in charge say that’s not the case.

A notice on the organization’s Web site describing the April 30 membership meeting contained the statement, “We need your active participation right now to keep our doors open. We will also be presenting important issues for members to vote on!”

But the situation is not in any way as critical as that statement might seem to some, according to one co-op veteran.

“Things are going really well,” said co-op vice president Laurie Guevara-Stone on Monday.

While management of the small, natural-foods emporium is challenging, as it has been since it opened its doors eight years ago, it is not in immediate danger of closing she said.

Still, she conceded, “We have been losing money for years,” and some of the discussion at the April 30 members’ meeting will be to talk about “rebranding” the business, possibly with a new name and logo, and about the idea of making changes in the membership-dues arrangement to boost income.

“We’re just trying to make some changes to make the co-op more sustainable,” said Guevara-Stone, explaining that one item in particular is needed — a “point-of-sale” system that would allow for better inventory control as well as let the management keep track of how many shoppers are members and how many are not.

Guevara-Stone noted that, while the co-op has about 500 members, there is no way of knowing how many non-members are buying items over any given period of time.

“We’d love to have more members,” Guevara-Stone said, but she added, “We just really want more people to shop there and support the co-op.”

The computerized system in question, known in shorthand as a POS, “costs thousands of dollars” and remains out of the organization’s financial reach for now.

One aspect of the co-op’s fiscal constraints, Guevara-Stone conceded, is that the co-op has some fairly significant debt to pay off, including debts to long-time vendors, which the organization plans to remedy before any big cash outlays for equipment updates.

Despite those difficulties, the co-op has expanded beyond its original space and recently completed a remodel that opened the current space up a bit, Guevara-Stone said.

“It seems like a whole new place,” she enthused. “It seems a lot bigger.”

When asked if the organization is contemplating any further expansion into neighboring commercial spaces,  Guevara-Stone replied, “We’re talking about that, but nothing’s really firm yet.”

One issue, she admitted, is that “We don’t know how long we’ll be able to stay in that building.”

The “building,” at 559 Main, is actually one of two buildings at the corner of 6th and Main streets, one of which is occupied by Teresa’s Market. The building that houses the co-op has a couple of other retail spaces that have occasionally stood vacant for some time.

The property is owned by Bren Simon, who, following a reportedly acrimonious court battle with family members of her late husband, Mel Simon, in 2012, came out with an unspecified portion of the $2 billion estate.

She has since been quietly accumulating real estate in and around Carbondale, including the property that houses the co-op.

“She’s been great to work with,” Guevara-Stone said of Simon. “She’s been a great landlord.”

But the expectation held by some members of the co-op and other observers of Carbondale’s business climate is that at some point Simon will want to tear down the moderately ramshackle buildings that now occupy the property and build something new.

And the concern among co-op managers is that the organization might not be able to afford the rents in whatever is built.

But, said Guevara-Stone, Simon has given no indication as to when or if that might happen.

“She keeps saying she has no immediate plans to do anything,” Guevara-Stone explained.

Simon, whose late husband was a shopping-mall magnate in Indianapolis, Indiana, is in charge of the Melvin & Bren Simon Foundation, which has a long record of providing support for a number of health-care, environmental, social welfare and therapy organizations around the country, among other activities.

Simon, who owns considerable real estate in the center of Carbondale, has not consented to interview requests through intermediaries and remains a somewhat elusive figure in the town’s commercial and political landscape.

Published in The Sopris Sun on April 14, 2016.