Transition

Letter to Membership

West End Food Co-op
416-533-6363
www.westendfood.coop
bonds@westendfood.coop

May 31, 2018

 

Dear WEFC member,

 

Thank you for your ongoing support of the West End Food Co-op. Since opening almost ten years ago, the Co-op has made significant achievements in our community. With a mission to make an impact on all parts of the local food system, we have successfully, and with your support, achieved so much:  

 

●      Our collaboration with the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre has led to the distribution of over $70,000 of healthy local food to 60+ vulnerable households in Parkdale. This was achieved through our Co-op Cred program, which supports access to healthy local food and provides work/learn opportunities to marginalized people in Parkdale.

●      Every year since opening the Sorauren Farmers’ Market and our grocery retail store at 1229 Queen St W, we have focused much of our efforts on connecting Toronto eaters to local farmers and producers. In the 2016-2017 year alone, we sold $580,000.00 worth of goods through the store at 1229 Queen St W from local farmers, food vendors, artisans, and producers from Southern Ontario. Vendors at the Sorauren Farmers’ Market sell upwards of an additional $700,000 collectively each year as well.

●      Fair, meaningful and equitable employment has always been a priority at WEFC. Through our many projects we have provided numerous work training programs, internships, jobs and advancement opportunities in a supportive and inclusive work environment. We have employed over 40 people in full and part time positions, some of whom have been with us for all or most of our lifetime.

●      We connect members daily through our workshops and events, in the store and at the farmers’ market. We’ve been invited in to your events and community happenings through our catering services and we spread the local, ethical, organic impact by wholesaling our value-added products to other local businesses.

 

Thank you for making all of these successes possible! We truly couldn’t have done it without your engagement, support, and investment. 

 

Many of these successes were also enabled by strong partnerships with other organizations in Parkdale, which many of you have also supported and fostered. In 2012, we were very fortunate to secure our current Queen St W location through an arrangement that offered us fair rates for the real estate market at that time. As you know, we learned in late 2016 that we would be required to vacate our current premises at 1229 Queen St W by the end of September 2018. Consequently, for the past year and a half, the Transition Committee of the Board has been actively working on solidifying a sustainable plan for the Co-op’s relocation from 1229 Queen St W.

Despite significant efforts to secure a financially-viable space we have concluded that, with the exception of the Sorauren Farmers’ Market, we will be closing all the operations of the Co-op. The operations currently housed at 1229 Queen St W will not be reopening in the foreseeable future. This closure includes the retail store, Co-op Kitchen, and all of our affiliated programming at the 1229 Queen St W site. In order to avoid additional negative impact to our overall financial position, and to ensure we can meet our existing commitments to employees and vendors, we will end operations at the 1229 Queen St W site on July 31st 2018.

 

The Board of Directors understands that this may be difficult news for many of you. Although we were hesitant to send this news over email, we wanted to notify you of organizational changes as soon as possible. We are also inviting you to an in-person Special Members Meeting on June 27th, where we will be able to address any questions you may have. A notification of the Special Members Meeting will be sent out in the first week of June. 

 

In the next year, the Board of Directors will be in a position to focus on strategic visioning and operational development for WEFC. Our dedication to the community is unchanged. We know that amidst the many external pressures we are experiencing, there are also new opportunities to provide services and programs in Parkdale that address the many gaps created by the dominant food system. We don’t need to tell you that Parkdale is also changing rapidly. We are confident that our deep roots and strong relationships here will enable us to contribute to new projects meaningfully.

 

To this end, in the early fall, the volunteer Board of Directors’ focus will shift from winding down our Queen St W operations to developing new programs that serve our mission, vision, and values. Amongst other ideas, we will explore building new community programs, as well as redeveloping wholesale and catering production streams to offer prepared foods in a scalable way. In the meantime, the Sorauren Farmers’ Market will continue to connect the neighbourhood to fresh, local food directly from farmers and producers. We will also be continuing our partnership with the Parkdale Activity Recreation Centre and the Co-op Cred program. 

 

Role of members going forward:

 

As a membership-based organization, we rely on our various stakeholder groups to strengthen and enable our work. Historically this has been through organizational visioning, volunteering within our programs and services, financial investment, introduction to organizational partners and partnership opportunities, and through participation on the Board and in the election process. 

 

We are entering a period that will open up many of these and other opportunities for participation. You can expect to hear from us soon with specific updates for ways of tapping into our new efforts. If you are interested in joining the Board for the upcoming term, elections have been moved to September and, again, we will send out a notice in due time. If you’re eager to contribute to strategic visioning or membership engagement sooner than that, we encourage you to get in touch with the Executive Committee of the Board at exec@westendfood.coop

 

More information about our decision:

 

As you can imagine, the Board of Directors has not arrived at the decision to wind down the majority of operations lightly. A commitment to sustaining meaningful employment opportunities as well as our impactful community programming has been a strong motivator throughout the last year and a half. We value the contributions that you have with this organization and, while we believe there is positivity for WEFC on the horizon, we send this letter with great sadness. 

 

There are several overarching reasons for arriving at this decision. Most significantly, we have found the cost of commercial spaces anywhere in or near Parkdale to be prohibitively expensive.  We have investigated over 100 commercial spaces and none were feasible. As reality set in that our options to replicate the organization’s service offerings were narrow, we explored other models that required different kinds of spaces. Those explorations also proved to be limited by rising real estate costs. If the organization had substantial capital (ie, savings) we may have been in a different position. But our relative youth as an organization, and the incredible cost of a move, has put us in a difficult financial position. 

 

Despite the increase in operational efficiencies (ie, cost-saving efforts) brought about by our staff leadership team over the last year, the organization has shown a consistent decrease in revenues over the 2017-2018 fiscal year. The market for organic grocery retail has changed considerably since we first offered our community bonds in 2009. In our original bondholder agreement we stated that “Market research and analysis conducted for the West End Food Co-op suggest that the local food movement and local sustainable agriculture is one of the fastest growing food sectors and movements in Canada today.” This fantastic growth has also seen a significant rise in corporate competition. Combined with the forces of gentrification in our neighbourhood, we saw a significant decline in our revenues, for example, after the opening of a Metro across the street from 1229 Queen St W in June 2017. And again, another significant decrease after Loblaws, Amazon (Whole Foods) and Walmart started “click and collect” delivery and pick up services in December. While we saw a slight increase in overall memberships sold in 2017, the average purchase declined for each person. In short - as a small business in a rapidly gentrifying neighbourhood we have been struggling. 

 

We, the West End Food Co-op Board of Directors, sincerely thank you for your support and generous contributions over the years. Please reach out with any questions you may have. 

 

Looking forward to seeing you on the 27th at the Special Members Meeting.

 

In solidarity, 

The Board of Directors