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Central Co-op members vote on Tacoma merger, reshaping ownership model — UPDATE

Members of Capitol Hill’s cooperative grocery store, Central Co-op, will have their final chance Monday night to vote on a proposed merger with Tacoma Food Co-op and changes to the co-op’s ownership structure.

The Seattle co-op board announced the proposed merger last month, which would keep both stores open in their current locations, along with a plan to shift the ownership model to give workers a greater stake in the company. Currently, consumer-members own 100% of the 16th and E Madison co-op. Under the “solidarity co-op” model, consumer-members would own half of the co-op and worker-members would own the other half.

UPDATE: Voting members passed both proposals by overwhelming majorities following Monday night’s final vote, according to Central Co-op marketing director Susanna Schultz. 93.2% voted in favor of the merger and 89.5% voted in favor of the ownership structure change. The board still has to adopt the changes.

“People really understand that worker ownership is a very powerful way to combat some of the problems we see manifest in our economy,” said Central Co-op general manager, Dan Arnett. “This is the kind of move that presents a longterm solution.”

According to Central Co-op’s voter’s guide, shoppers and owners would not notice any substantial changes at the Capitol Hill store under the merger, which would require no layoffs. Board members say the plan will strengthen both stores financially and expand the co-op economy in the region.

Special_Election_Infographic_2_650Still, the proposal hasn’t won over all of Seattle’s consumer-owners. Some took to CHS comments to express their concerns with the proposals, including that the co-op board did not adequately inform owners on the plan.

“Opinions are gonna vary. I’ve never heard of a large group having a consensus on anything,” Arnett said.

Tacoma Food Co-op opened four years ago and has struggled with costs. Central Co-op, on the other hand, has been in operation on Capitol Hill for 40 years and just signed a 20-year lease with another 20-year option. In 1999, Central Co-op moved into the newly constructed building at 16th and Madison as the first and only commercial tenant in the space. The co-op got its start more than 20 years earlier on 12th Ave where it operated until the late 90s move.

The merger and ownership changes require a two-thirds approval by both Seattle and Tacoma members. Monday’s vote will take place at 6:30 PM at Miller Community Center, 330 19th Ave E. Online voting closed Sunday.

Central Co-op is a CHS advertiser.

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Spencer Beard
4 years ago

Dan Arnett is quoted as saying “I’ve never heard of a large group having consensus on anything.” The fact is the board didn’t try to build consensus. That takes time. They popped the special election on the members one week after introducing their ideas and three weeks before any planned Q & A sessions with members. They simply had to change their absurdly tight schedule to include general information and discussion sessions before calling a vote. It is disappointing that a co-op would abandon its commitment to member participation in this way particularly while making such wide-ranging changes in structure.

4 years ago

I agree that the ownership structure change was very lightly discussed and took me (a regular member) by surprise. While I voted in favor of the merger in order to give Central the best chance to survive in a tough market, the ownership proposal was too much, too fast and feels like a power grab by management over the interests of the consumers. I encourage a NO vote on at least proposal #2.