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Niskayuna Co-op plans for future at membership meeting

Niskayuna Co-op plans for future at membership meeting

Supermarket made small profit last year
Niskayuna Co-op plans for future at membership meeting
Sara Sharkey, outgoing president of the board for the Niskayuna Co-op, is pictured.
Photographer: Jeff Wilkin/Gazette Reporter

NISKAYUNA -- The Niskayuna Co-op, which has experienced financial problems in the past, has money in the bank.

The supermarket located on Nott Street -- a landmark in the town since 1943 -- recorded $8.35 million in sales during 2018. While that figure is lower than the $8.43 sales figure recorded in 2017, it still left the market with $35,000 in net income.

Sales for the first three months of 2019 are $1.8 million, said treasurer Paula Pierce -- down 1.5 percent from last year.

Numbers and new initiatives were discussed Tuesday night during the co-op's spring meeting. The session at Edwin D. Reilly Jr. Niskayuna Town Hall lasted about 45 minutes and attracted 40 co-op members, nearly filling the hall's main meeting room.

"The ship is steady, I think," said board president Sara Sharkey. "We feel we are on a good course. But sales are down, that's not a good long-range forecast for us."

Management and board members have ideas to change that forecast.

Manager Richard "Rit" Gabree said new products are coming to the store, such as chicken pot pies, quiche, maple salmon, eggplant dip and tomato jam.

"We're in the process of ramping that up," Gabree said.

Home and beauty products from Beekman 1802 are also coming to co-op shelves.

Board Member Chris Rooney said the co-op remains visible in the community, with a spring open house, Father's Day Grill-out and opening day of the Niskayuna Farmers Market (in the store's side parking lot) scheduled for April 13, June 15 and July 13, respectively. He also said the store took the "Best Supermarket Award" and "Best Butcher Shop/Meat Market" award in The Daily Gazette's recent "Best of the Best" poll.

"We aim to defend our title this year," he said.

A co-op "Ambassador" program is also in the works. People who join the co-op for $5 will be asked to sign up for emails announcing new products and special events. There will also be opportunities to volunteer at co-op events.

"Ambassadors" will also be asked to talk to neighbors and friends and spread the word about the co-op.

"There's a lot of community support for the co-op, but we face some daunting challenges in the marketplace," said Sarah Bilofsky, who completed her first year as a board member. "We talked about the fact there is more and more competition for selling food. Costs go up, but grocery margins have notoriously been razor-thin.

"I think we're really excited about bringing some some new initiatives, we're a different  kind of store," Bilofsky added.

Sharkey, who ended six years on the board at the conclusion of the meeting, asked co-op loyalists to spend just $5 more each during each visit.

"Do that one extra thing," Sharkey said, adding she likes to use an "Easter basket" example. Instead of shopping for candy or other small gifts at local drugs stores, she asked people to consider the co-op for extra shopping.

"We're trying to bring in some products that prompt that kind of spending in the way we organize the front end, to do a little bit more of that impulse purchasing," Sharkey said.

The board is hoping to increase cash reserves, currently at $248,000.

Sharkey said the reserve account must be healthy. Equipment breakdowns require quick replacements, and that requires money in the bank.

The reserve money would also be required for investment opportunities or strategy and tactical operations.

"We want to build those reserves so we're prepared to take advantage of those opportunities which we won't be able to if we don't have the cash in hand to do it," Sharkey said.

Sharkey will be succeeded as president by Donna Evans, who has served as board president in the past.

"I feel I've seen the Earth shift in six years," Sharkey said of her time on the board. "My first board meeting, when I was elected to the board, there were less than a half-dozen people, we were at the Unitarian Society in Schenectady and it was totally uneventful.

"What I've seen in the last six years is this incredible evolution from the board itself, the level of maturity on this board and really, Donna Evans started it under her leadership and presidency, but brought up the entire caliber of people leading this ... I'm so impressed with the talent around that table."

Six years ago, Sharkey added, fewer than 40 people attended a co-op meeting.

"We have had some financial challenges, I think the support of this community .... this kind of an investment from our community members and this reaction ...we're thrilled to see this," Sharkey said.

During the 2017 spring meeting, falling sales, the resignation of a general manager and the layoffs of six employees were fresh in members' minds.

In 2016, the supermarket had sustained a $118,000 loss on $8.8 million in sales. At the time, sales were down 7 percent from 2016; only $8.2 million in sales were projected for 2017. Sales were $8.43 million for 2017.

In addition to Evans, new officers for 2019-2020 are: Sunny Lee, vice president; Errol Limani, vice president for special projects; Alicia Deering, secretary; and Greg Mattice, treasurer.

New board members include Ryan Fagan Pandolfini; Barbara Gillen; Coy Reynolds; Chris Rust; Lester Nathan; Greg Mattice; and Laurene Curtin.

Bilofsky, Rooney and Jay Utzig  remain on the board.

Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]

   

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