NISKAYUNA — Members of the Niskayuna Co-op food market are expected to vote tonight on a change in a co-op bylaw that, if approved, will adjust redemption values for stock shares purchased by new members.
The vote will take place during a co-op membership meeting originally scheduled for early December — a session postponed in the aftermath of the month’s record-breaking snowstorm.
Tuesday’s meeting will be held at Edwin D. Reilly Jr. Niskayuna Town Hall and begin at 6:30 p.m.
“Our board has voted to set a new share price beginning next month at $25 for new members only, so the difference is when you make that $25 membership, when you buy your $25 share, the redemption value then would become a penny,” said Sarah E. Bilofsky, who along with Sunny Lee is co-president of the volunteer board.
“That’s what we’re voting on,” Bilofsky said.
A share in the co-op currently costs $5, a figure Bilofsky said has been in place since the market opened in 1943. People who have bought those past shares will still be able to redeem them for $5, if they so decide.
“Current members and shares will not be affected by this change” read a recent letter sent to co-op members. “Shares purchased prior to February 1, 2020 will retain a $5 par value and redemption value.”
“By changing the redemption value to a penny … you are buying a share and that money is staying with the co-op,” Bilofsky said. “Right now, we have to make sure we have the funds to give back all those shares if people so choose to redeem them.”
The $25 share price, Bilofsky said, will become part of funds used to keep the store in business. The current $5 share, she added, would equate to $74 in 2020 cash.
“This is a pretty modest increase and we know from the homework the board has done around the country, most co-ops are at least $100 if not $200,” Bilofsky said. “And some charge that annually to be a member.”
When people buy shares in the co-op, she also said, they are making an investment in their community and signaling intentions to become part of the store.
People currently invested in the store can always purchase additional shares.
“We certainly encourage people to do that; if they love the store and they want to see the store continue to thrive,” Bilofsky said. “Maybe they’ve been a member for 20 years. We have people who are third generation family members of the co-op.”
The meeting will also include a “state of the co-op” discussion, store finances and the report of interim General Manager Dennis Hanley, who recently began duties at the co-op.
Bilofsky said the board believes the proposed bylaw change is an important step, as the co-op competes in a marketplace that has changed greatly over the years.
“There was no Amazon delivery, there was no HelloFresh bringing meals to your door,” she said. “There was no Trader Joe’s here. The way we shop and the way we think about food and the way we think about meal preparation has changed.
“The co-op is strong, but we looked at the numbers and sales are not where they need to be,” Bilofsky said. “Our costs continue to go up and our sales are not keeping pace with that.”
Some things have changed. Bilofsky said Hanley brings 40 years of grocery business experience to Niskayuna. A recent addition is the small cafe — tables and chairs — now open near the baked goods aisles.
Bilofsky said she has heard complaints the co-op is taking a more “corporate” approach.
“I don’t understand that,” she said, adding the co-op is governed by a board of directors elected by membership. “We oversee the store,” she said.
“Everybody around that board table loves the store and wants it to thrive,” Bilofsky said. “We want the store to thrive for the next generation, but we are operating in a different environment and I think the advantage to bringing in fresh eyes — whether you’re in health care or you’re in food service or you’re in grocery — everybody can do things better.
“Let’s take a look at what we’re doing well and let’s look at opportunities for us to be even stronger.”