GreenStar Without Borders


By Joe Romano, 

Marketing Manager

It is the very boundary that establishes our sense of being a separate self ... like all boundaries it is only an illusion.

— Ken Wilber

bigstock blueprintWhere is GreenStar? What are its boundaries? Where is its beginning and where, if at all, does it end?

You could look to a kitchen table in the late 1960s or to a document signed in 1971 for its beginnings. Or you could look back further to the Rochdale Pioneers who "created" cooperation.

You could describe the boundaries of our buildings, and say it all starts at the front door and goes to the back, measuring all the property lines, delineating sales space, offices, storage and meeting rooms and even parking spots and dining areas.

Some might count our membership — from the very first person on our incorporation papers, to the person behind you in line joining today — grown now beyond 8,000 members. Some might count our sales numbers, slated to surpass $15 million this year. You might include people who wish they could shop here but just don't live close enough.

More adventurous types might delineate the Co-op by the things we do and don't do, by the products we sell or don't sell, and even others might measure GreenStar Cooperative Market by the people we affect in our community, expanding the concept of GreenStar further to include GreenStar Community Projects and their work in the community through their many affiliated groups, community members and member organizations.

For that matter, we could include organizations with which we are closely aligned, like Local First Ithaca and the National Cooperative Grocers Association.

We grow even larger when you consider that we have many members and fans and cooperators who stay a part of our family long distance, who have lived in other communities for years but stay in touch, maintain their memberships and even vote from afar. You may even say that we are part of a family of almost a billion cooperators worldwide.

At any rate, at this point it seems we may be reaching the edges of our borders. But the question has shown that the idea that is GreenStar has continued to press at all of those boundaries.

Indeed, if you shop in our stores, you know that there has been pressure on those boundaries for a long time. Our stores are stocked, chock-a-block wall to wall, and often our shoppers are confounded by the constraints of our parking lot. Our Dewitt Mall location (Oasis) continues to grow in leaps and bounds and is busy throughout the day, causing us to expand hours there.

That is why GreenStar Council's Expansion Committee has actively been engaged in searching for a place to open a larger store downtown, as well as pursuing opportunities to open additional stores to reach more members of our community.

Over the last few years the committee has engaged both commercial realtors and the City's Office of Planning and Development to aid in the search for a site for a larger main store, which has to date brought several locations to light, some of which may yet prove fruitful.

At the same time, the committee has been looking at several areas where a satellite store might introduce even more people to our cooperative way of doing business. One of these areas is Collegetown. With the construction of a new housing development just down the street, and a six-story building planned for the site itself, it seemed a perfect opportunity when a local developer approached our Expansion Committee with an offer to rent a small store situated on College Avenue, next to the fire station.

After examining the site plan and several market studies, the Expansion Committee and General Manager Brandon Kane decided that this proposal was worth pursuing. Brandon's task now is to build a business plan around the proposed site plan as the City reviews the site plan itself. Approval of a GreenStar satellite store in Collegetown will also be put to a membership vote. Assuming that membership approves the concept and the City approves the site plan, we could be looking at a Co-op branch in Collegetown within the next couple of years.

Even though we have made great strides in connecting with the local college community, any local vendor will tell you it's a challenge to get students and faculty to come down the hill. For those who do come to our stores, a new location would enable them to shop more often while taking a bit of the pressure off of our other two locations. Most importantly, having a co-op in Collegetown would introduce more young people to the idea of co-ops, something co-ops nationwide have found challenging.

The wave of co-ops like GreenStar that were started at the end of the sixties have an aging demographic that corresponds to when that movement took root. As a result, many of our shoppers sport frosty manes as we enter our fifties, sixties and beyond. This is not a sustainable model, and it is clear, at GreenStar and across the country, that if co-ops are going to continue to thrive and grow we must attract a younger membership. This opportunity seems perfect, and so, if the variances go through, you will be hearing much more on this topic soon.

At the same time, we have been reaching out to other communities to expand who we are as a co-op. Kirtrina Baxter, Program Director of GreenStar Community Projects, has been looking at every aspect of our co-op, from our hiring practices to our workplace culture, communications and media, to help us to improve our ongoing diversity initiative. It is true that we have been successful in changing our culture over the past few years and have greatly expanded our inclusivity, further stretching our boundaries in profoundly rewarding ways. But we would be foolish to think this work was even near complete, for it, too, has no boundaries.

We have been working with a group of community leaders from the Multicultural Research Center, the Greater Ithaca Activities Center, Southside Community Center, the Center for Transformative Action, the Telluride Association, and the Race Liberation Alliance for some time now, and continue to do so.

The work Kirtrina has begun is a sort of internal diversity "audit," in which she will work directly with managers, staff and Council in a day-to-day, ongoing assessment of how we can improve and expand our efforts toward including all members of our community. This has been true growth for our co-op and is exciting to see taking place and, indeed, taking off.

Our co-op has also attracted hundreds of new members through our FLOWER program, which enables shoppers who couldn't previously afford to shop here a way to be a part of our growing co-op family, further enriching the world that we call GreenStar and taking a strong step toward real food justice in our community.

Finally, through an expanded effort toward more outreach and participation at more local events by our Marketing Department, we're finding ways to knock down any imagined boundaries that might have previously held us back. We are "reaching out'" further and further every day.

So how do we define the boundaries of GreenStar? The Hindus might reply, Tat tvam asi, — "You are that" — meaning you are essentially all that manifests in the universe. Whether or not you perceive GreenStar as including everything, as being at one with Creation, "that" is still pretty deep.

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