CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story contained two factual errors. It originally said the Co-op's sales were down $7.7 million for the first 11 months of 2019. In fact, they were up .45 percent. It also said interim General Manager Dennis Hanley hopes to become the full-time GM. He does not intend to stay in the job and he's contracted to stay only until a permanent GM is hired.
NISKAYUNA -- Changes are coming to the Niskayuna Co-op food market.
But not everyone is happy with the process.
About 140 people on Tuesday packed the meeting room at Edwin D. Reilly Jr. Niskayuna Town Hall for a co-op membership meeting. While facts and figures were part of the two-hour session -- sales were slightly up (.45 percent ) in the first 11 months of 2019 but net income was down $73,000 -- some co-op members voiced concerns about the management style of interim General Manager Dennis Hanley.
At the end of the lengthy meeting, members addressing the co-op's board of directors said they have heard store employees are working in a hostile environment and some fear they will lose their jobs. Members also said employees are among the reasons they shop at the store; the staffers know their names and their preferences.
People stood in rows behind room chairs. Many sat in black cushioned chairs normally reserved for members of Niskayuna governing boards.
Don Bisgrove, former longtime manager of the co-op, said he has heard employee complaints.
"There's always a lot of room for change, but I'm uncomfortable with some of the stuff I'm hearing," Bisgrove said after the meeting.
"I'm not going to make a judgment," Bisgrove added, "All these employees I hired 30, 40 years ago, they're telling me they're not happy and when they're not happy, there's a problem."
But others said they will back changes that create a stronger co-op. One woman said she noticed more greetings -- store staffers stopped her in the store and wished her a happy holiday season -- since Hanley began work.
Board Co-President Sarah E. Bilofsky said the board is always interested in doing what's best for the store, which has served the town since 1943.
"We're very interested in hearing from our members in a membership meeting," she said. "I think change is really hard and anybody who's been through a change in their job can tell you that."
By change, Bilofsky said market directors are looking at the store from top to bottom and making sure things are being done the best way possible.
"Sometimes, we have to adopt new ways to do things in order to be current and compete," Bilofsky said. "Sometimes we have to embrace change even when it's difficult and sometimes expectations have to change. It's a very different environment."
Bilofsky also said the board has confidence in Hanley, who has 40 years experience in the grocery industry.
"He's a change agent, that's why we brought him in," she said. "He's contracted for a limited period of time to help make sure the co-op is in the best possible position to go forward and for a general manager to take over."
Hanley, who praised his work team during remarks made during the meeting, started the interim job in November.
"Change is really hard, and I guess what I would say is I think they've got a lot of talent and we just have to train them and stay there right there on their right," he said after the meeting. "That's exactly what I plan to do, stay right on their right and help mentor them to the new changes, take them under the wing."
Hanley said he has been instructing staffers on grocery details such as sales per labor hour figures and inventory control. He said overtime figures have already been cut.
Hanley said change at the co-op will happen slowly. His goals include the addition of 4,000 new items; the creation of new lines in organic, bulk, natural, kosher and gluten-free foods; and institution of sampling events every other weekend.
Hanley said he is confident in the staff; He will stay at the helm of the Co-op until a permanent general manager is hired, according to board members.
"I love it," he said of the co-op. "It's so fun to watch what's going to happen here and the talent that's in this store. It's going to really be fun."
Board member Chris Rooney said the meeting was exciting.
"I was really looking forward to this meeting, just because there's been a lot of buzz going on," he said. "I've been on the board for almost two years, this is like my third or fourth member meeting and usually there are more board members than there are members. I knew this one was going to be highly attended and I was excited about that."
Another change took place during the meeting. In a show of hands, members overwhelmingly voted a change in the co-op bylaw which will adjust redemption values for stock shares purchased by new members.
Co-op shares are currently $5, and people who have invested may still redeem shares for $5. Beginning Feb. 1, the membership charge will rise to $25; redemption value will be one penny.
Contact Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 518-395-3124 or at [email protected]