Some 200 people showed up Monday night for the kickoff meeting of the Medford Market Co-op — some expressing lingering resentment about the failure of the enterprise last year and others urging that people learn from past mistakes, move on and pull out their checkbooks.
John Statler, president of Medford Market's board of directors, said it had about $7,000 left in its account, owed $5,000 to consultants and now wanted to start on raising $2 million, with a goal to open doors next September.
Statler, a Medford city councilman, was immediately challenged by Bill Hatch, who had earlier bought four shares in the food co-op and said, "The board didn't listen to members last time. They knew what they wanted and I thought the rent (on the Ace Hubbard Hardware building) was totally insane."
In a PowerPoint presentation, board member Louise Dix said she had studied many other food co-ops around the nation and been to a training for co-op directors in Portland, learning that the lion's share of them had encountered similar problems — the biggest one being the mistake of signing a lease without contingencies on being able to get financing.
The board, composed of all new members, was clearly humbled by past lessons and Dix promised increased transparency, frequent communication with members, explanation of major expenditures and keeping the co-op "systems based," so then "your problems are systems-based and not people-based."
The board also learned the lesson that it should do "board work" and let the steering committee do action work, Dix said.
Statler told the crowd, "We hope to convince you to trust us. "¦ All the money we receive from shares and the owner loan program will not be spent till we reach the tipping point (having enough capital and loans secured)."
Pressed for an accounting of where members' past investments went, Statler said "a lot of it went to that landlord, if you want to talk to him." He told the crowd that if they were members before, they are still members now.
"The original board wanted to dissolve the corporation and your money would have gone down the drain. You are still owners."
Member Barbara Lowe urged the crowd to let the past go, put trust in the new board and let it move ahead with the new plan.
Statler added, "We are overwhelmed. This group of people (the new board) saved this corporation. We had to work through old records to see where we were and find the creditors. I want a little slack."
Board member John Miele presented a budget showing member equity — memberships and member loans — needed to be at 38 percent of the budget of $2.07 million. Such funds won't be commingled with any other funds and won't be spent until they're ready to open the store, he said, "and we'll only open the store when we have a firm commitment from a lender" and after approval of membership.
Lynn Howe, a candidate for state representative and a co-op member from the last round, bought another membership. But she added, "I'm a little worried" because so many members want to satisfy all the requirements of the ideal co-op. In her travels around the country, Howe said she found that few co-ops looked like the ideal one, yet all were thriving.
After the meeting, Howe said, "I feel it will succeed. Look at all these people. They didn't stay home. They want it to happen."
Hatch, who challenged board members on not listening, said after the meeting, "I'm not going to invest any more. The previous board didn't listen. I want to hear brainstorming, not planning already done before the meeting like I heard tonight."
Member and volunteer Dick Gordon, who researched potential sites, said the old Value Village and Castle Superstore sites seem best, but the market changes daily and the choice is a long way off. Both are more than twice the square footage set in the board's goals and the Castle site lacks good location, he noted.
Gordon added that, in preliminary talks, "We have very little credibility with building owners because of what previously happened. We have to have everything lined up. Our reputation precedes us, especially when we say we have $7,000 in the bank and more than that in bills."
Statler said the drive for member equity investments was officially open — and some, including previous member Camille Korsmo, wrote checks.
"It's something I totally believe in and want to have in my community," said Korsmo. "The new board will be guided by the mistakes of the old board and I need to support them."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.