MFC History: Tough Transitions and a Glimmer of Hope

by Alexandria Lamont – Media Coordinator

Tough Transitions and a Glimmer of Hope

When we left off, the foundation and groundwork had been laid for Medford Food Co-op, known then as Medford Market Cooperative. The newly found Co-op was bankrupt; had abandoned business plans; and a majority of the Board members pushed to dissolve the corporation. The two remaining Board members helped to keep what was left of the Co-op intact for a new group to spearhead the project.

A small handful of members that disagreed with the plan for dissolution, including retired National Park Ranger of 36-years, John Miele, decided to form an ad hoc committee. The committee sought a different direction than the Board’s recommendation for dissolution, and attended the meeting with a draft to buy time for an alternative business plan or new location. 

John Statler, a city councilman and dedicated supporter, pressed the Board to reconsider.  Statler urged what was left of the Board to extend the life of the Medford Market Cooperative for another 30 days. Statler strongly felt that this action would maintain good faith negotiations with the 1,500 owners and thousands of potential shoppers throughout the Rogue Valley. He invited all owners who wanted to continue the Co-op to sign a petition to revive their efforts.

“I hope and pray that individually and collectively they will examine their hearts and consciences and do the right thing for the Rogue Valley community,” Staler said in a moving speech at the meeting of dissolution. That very night the ad hoc committee left the main meeting space and met in an adjacent room as the original board continued with the dissolution. 

All but two members resigned amidst the chaos— one being Paige West of the initial Medford Market Board, who strongly believed the cooperative of 1,500 members should not dissolve and that a new effort to open a store should resume. West was successful in terminating the 10-year Hubbard’s lease and extending the payback time for the National Cooperative Bank’s $25,000 loan before handing the reins over to the new committee. 

West also decided to aid Statler’s newly formed ad hoc committee to help make sure the efforts to establish a co-op in Medford were not lost. As ad hoc member Ben Truwe put it, “West was the heroine of the first Board of Directors. When the second Board formed and tried to wrestle control from the first Board— which wanted dearly to close the thing down and forget it ever existed, Paige was the sole Board member to stick her neck out and turn over the Co-op records.” 

This new Board of Directors decided the best course of action was to scale downward. They figured it would take $500,000 to open a modest location. Still reeling from the last onslaught of setbacks—the public was justifiably skeptical about the new effort. The fledgling subgroup, born out of the ashes of defeat, was ridiculed for even entertaining the thought of continuing their pursuit. The first set of plans not only fell apart, but the nation was on the verge of a recession, and the National Co-op Development service warned the minimum it would take to open even a small store front would be $1.5 million.

Would they be able to raise even a third of that amount?

The people were reluctant to lose— again.

By the end of 2008, the newly elected Board president, Jim Sims came up with a plan to reestablish trust with the community.  First, he whittled down the name Medford Market Cooperative to just Medford Food Co-op. Jim was able to glean from his prior experience as President of the Board at the Ashland Food Co-op four decades before. Additionally, he began asking for investments of $5,000 to $10,000 with a return rate of 4% interest. This time the money would be deposited at Umpqua Bank, and wouldn’t be touched until the goal was met and the store was scheduled to be opened. The ad hoc committee also printed a thermometer in the local papers that allowed their supporters to follow along with fundraising progress.  

Armed with a plan, a pitch, and deadline— the new Board began renewing zeal in their mutual aspiration.  

With each presentation, interest swelled. As the thermometer gradually began to fill, the Mail Tribune pursued the fundraising with a renewed sense of vigor, and so did the public. People decided to reinvest in the future of the Co-op with owner-generated loans, sponsorships, new share purchases, and even cash gifts with no promise of repayment. Additionally, professionals from various backgrounds volunteered their expertise. ConNet, a media company, chose one non-profit essential in the community to promote every year, and the employees chose the new MFC endeavor! The telemarketing team enthusiastically pitched the vision to each home in the valley.  Other specialists offered expertise: including Karen Fronek of Make it Happen Media, who had a great standing relationship with the Mail Tribune, and employees and managers from Ashland Food Co-op, including General Manager Richard Katz. Ashland Food Co-op even made a second generous contribution of $10,000, despite the initial lost investment.

The community was committed to healthy, local, organic food. Regardless of the initial setbacks, the community reorganized. Reorganized so well, in fact, that within the last two weeks of the July 2010 capitalization deadline, the Medford Food Co-op raised more than the $500,000 it desperately needed to open.

It’s safe to say initial doubt gave way to need and desire, and soon Statler, Miele, Sims and the other founders found themselves superseding their goal by $200,000. One anonymous donor contributed $50,000 at a quick last minute meeting in a parking lot, bringing the grand total to roughly $700,000.

Now it was time to find a location. Land surveyors, landscapers, successful businessmen, and many others freely offered their advice, as did Russ Batzer of Batzer Construction. Batzer was in possession of a building previously used as a daycare center when first purchased back in 1997. The savvy financier took it upon himself to draw up plans to revamp the building to fit the needs of a grocery store at an estimated $250,000. Only after construction began, was the money in escrow finally used to outfit the new building on Riverside Avenue.

Everything was going as planned.

Part 1: Rocky and Risky Beginnings

Part 3: Fantastic Finale

"Tough Transitions and a Glimmer of Hope​" is part two of a three-part history of Medford Food Co-op. Part three will be published next week.

Written by MFC Media Coordinator Alexandria Lamont, with input and assistance from John Statler, John Miele, Jim Sims, Ben Truwe, Roger Noyes, Paige West, and Kira Lesley.