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'Co-op' considers becoming a real one

ACFS board seeks members' opinions

ASHLAND - Known locally as "the co-op," Ashland Community Food Store may become a cooperative in more than nickname.

Members would purchase five $20 shares to establish equity under a proposal from the store's board of directors to create a true cooperative business.

Co-op status would insure ACFS could join with other co-ops to reduce costs. Equity funds could provide capital improvements. Members would get a 2 percent discount on purchases. The current 5 percent discount for members who shop before noon would disappear.

"In order to survive in the future, (co-ops) need to collaborate with one another so they are forming regional buying groups," said Annie Hoy, ACFS public relations coordinator. "We feel we need to be a part of that world so we can offer competitive prices."

Conversion to cooperative status would require dissolution of the current corporation, followed by re-incorporation. An advisory vote of the membership will be taken if the board pursues the idea. The board would make the final decision, said Hoy. No date has been set for an advisory vote.

Two meetings to gain input have been held. Additional meetings are set at the store for 7 p.m. today; 12:30 p.m. Tuesday; 12:30 p.m. Aug. 14 and 7 p.m. Aug. 16.

Currently anyone who asks can become a member. There are more than 8,000 members of the community-owned, nonprofit organization, which started 25 years ago.

Shares could be purchased through different arrangements, varying from payment of the full $100 to a $10 annual "low income" option.

"Shares are refundable conditional upon them being replaced by a new member," said Diane Taudvin, chair of the ACFS board. "(Members) would give us notice and as soon as we have a replacement purchaser we would refund their money."

Most customers interviewed Tuesday morning supported conversion.

"It's a good way to help the store stay open," said Laura Lindley of Talent, who does not regularly shop in the mornings for the discount. "I'm willing to pay a fee. I don't believe in a free ride."

Another Talent resident, Sam Thurow, usually shops in the morning, but would join if the proposal gains approval.

"I'd keep supporting it no matter what they do," said Thurow. "I'd like to see them have a way to spread out the discount."

"I'd still save $100 (with the 2 percent discount). I would join," said Suji Yoder, who regularly comes from Selma in Josephine County to shop at the store.

"You need to have capital. It seems like a good idea," said Terre DeVilbiss of Medford. "There's no place in Medford that has anything comparable."

One Ashland resident did not support the concept. "If it's not broke, don't try to fix it," said Rivers Brown. "They're complaining about not enough capital, but they don't always make wise decisions."

ACFS owes $300,000 on its current mortgage. A store expansion that starts in October will increase debt by about $900,000.

Pre-tax earnings in recent years have been 2 to 2.5 percent of gross sales. Last year's sales exceeded $7 million. About — percent of earnings is usually available for capital expenses. The other earnings are used to fund employee 401k plans and are given as grants to community organizations.

Reach Ashland bureau reporter Tony Boom at 482-4651, or e-mail