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Niskayuna Co-op looks for new manager, higher membership fee

Niskayuna Co-op looks for new manager, higher membership fee

Members to vote Monday on increase in dues, board to undertake search for new general manager
Niskayuna Co-op looks for new manager, higher membership fee
Former Niskayuna Co-Op General Manager Richard "Rit" Gabree is seen in this file photo from July 25, 2017.
Photographer: Marc Schultz / Gazette Photographer

NISKAYUNA — The Niskayuna Co-op opened its doors in 1943 amid wartime rationing of food. 

The membership fee was set at $5 then, and remains $5 now. But it may not be $5 much longer.

During the Co-op’s biannual membership meeting to be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday in Town Hall, members of the town landmark will vote whether to increase the fee to $25.

The fee would remain a one-time requirement upon joining — there are no annual dues — and the increase would take effect in January. 

Also Monday, members will vote on a proposed change to the bylaws that would create a second tier of membership shares: Those issued before Jan. 1, 2020, would retain a par and redemption value of $5, while those issued after would have par and redemption values of 1 cent.

Meanwhile, the Co-op is in the thick of one of the busiest shopping periods of the year without a permanent general manager. 

Richard “Rit” Gabree resigned Nov. 11 to pursue other interests, said Sarah Bilofsky, co-president of the Co-op’s board of directors.

Dennis Hanley, a 40-year veteran of the grocery retail business, has been brought in as interim general manager. It is a role which he has made his specialty, Bilofsky added, but one which will be only temporary. He is not a candidate for the permanent post, and the board will undertake a search to fill it.

Gabree started as a meat wrapper and deli clerk, then worked his way up to assistant general manager over the course of more than 20 years. In April 2017, he was named general manager, replacing Jennifer Felitte, who left abruptly after 2.5 years in the post, much as Gabree did earlier this month.

“We’re really grateful for his service,” Bilofsky said.

Their short tenures stand in contrast to Felitte’s predecessor, Don Bisgrove, who retired in 2014 after 38 years as general manager.

Felitte and Gabree served as general manager during of a period of declining revenue and staff cuts. The decline was worrisome enough that the board undertook a strategic planning initiative to strengthen the position of the Niskayuna Consumers Cooperative Inc., which remains a beloved fixture in the community, a smaller more personable alternative to the supermarkets that cover an acre or more. 

There are three supermarkets and a discount retailer near the Co-op, one of them right across Balltown Road.

“We are holding our ground,” Bilofsky said Monday, when asked about the Co-op’s fortunes since the turnaround efforts began. “It’s a very challenging time in” the grocery industry.

The Co-op is functioning well with a good team in the aisles and a seasoned professional at the helm, she said, even as it’s functioning at high volume.

“A lot of turkeys are going out the door,” Bilofsky said.

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