Co-op Collective Rebounds After Debt

    According to General Store member Taury St. Claire, the co-ops suffered from dwindling business due to construction. The construction, which lasted from 2007-09, expanded the Old Student Center from 10,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet. It blocked the main entrance to the General Store, causing fewer customers to visit the co-ops. The lack of business and loss of co-op membership almost caused the co-ops to be shut down after they accrued almost $45,000 of debt to vendors and to the university. 

    “The store just looked really, really sad,” St. Claire said.

    As a result, the co-ops and the university negotiated in 2008 to temporarily stop the rent until the co-ops could afford to pay it off. In the former 2006 lease, the Ché Café paid $84.00, the General Store $1,450.97, the Food Co-op $521.70 and Groundwork Books $788.55 per month for rent, based on the square footage of each space.

    “We decided as a co-op to stop the rent,” St. Claire said. “Every quarter we were scraping by and would barely make the rent.”

    After construction at the Old Student Center ended, further improvements to the co-ops increased business for them. The Bike Shop and General Store switched locations, which led to more foot traffic for the General Store. Increased co-op membership and increased sales due to the addition of the co-ops’ textbook rental program allowed co-ops to start hosting Open Mic nights, video game tournaments, workshops and benefit shows on a regular basis. As a result, more students came and the co-ops recovered. 

    “It was really, really rough for us to pull out of the hole,” Sanchez said. “We’re still rising up after it. However, we’re not struggling or on the brink of failure.”

    Though the rent was temporarily stopped, the co-ops hope that future negotiations with University Centers will allow their complexes to be rent-free, or at least have heavily reduced rent. The co-ops’ current Master Space Agreement — a renewable two-year legal document that defines how each university space operates — considers them businesses and does not accurately reflect the non-profit and co-op nature of the stores, according to General Store member Samantha Sanchez. 

    “Previously, [the contract] talks about us as vendors,” Sanchez said. “We wanted to change it to co-ops since we’re different than other vendors; we’re non-profit and all volunteers.”

    The co-ops also want the changes in the MSA to ensure they can continue hosting events, such as the Super Smash Bros. tournament they held on Thursday, May 24 at the General Store. As “vendors,” the co-ops would have more restrictions on which events they can host.

    “Each co-op is a unique space and resource, and we want to share that with people,” Sanchez said.

    However, MSA negotiations between University Centers and the co-ops have been a slow process, starting from 2008 to present day, according to Sanchez. Sanchez said it took weeks for University Centers to talk to the university board about each change proposed by the co-ops. University Centers Director Hugh Hagues confirmed that University Centers is still considering the amount of debt forgiveness for the co-ops and that the process has been “on and off.”

    The co-op collective hopes to reach a conclusion regarding the lease and the rest of their debt in Fall 2012, according to co-op member Anya Diamond. They also hope to bring back community grants and student scholarships once they are out of debt, and work more closely with students and A.S. Council.

    “We want to change our relationship with the university,” Sanchez said.

    Students who want to be involved with the General Store can attend open meetings on Fridays at 5 p.m. at the General Co-op, or on Thursdays at 8:30 p.m. at the Ché Café.

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