The plans to move the Kootenay Country Store Cooperative from one end of the downtown to the other took a major step forward Monday night.
At a special meeting at the Best Western Baker Street Inn, members voted 119 to 6 in favour of allowing the board to invest more than 75 per cent of its reserves to purchase and redevelop the property that currently houses Extra Foods in the 700 block of Vernon Street.
After a presentation that explained the history of the co-op and the deal currently on the table, members took a vote.
The special resolution they voted on asked the following: “Resolved pursuant to Rule 39 of the Association that the directors must not invest over 75% of the financial reserves of the Cooperative at any one time without the prior approval by the special resolution of members: That the Cooperative invest over 75% of its financial reserves for the sole purpose of acquiring and developing the property described as 708 Vernon Street, Nelson, British Columbia.”
The vote of support will now allow the deal with the property owners to move ahead. The co-op is paying $3.5 million for the property with a closing date of June 1.
“It makes me happy because I think it conveys a pretty high degree of trust in the board which I am very pleased with because I think we worked really hard to earn it,” co-op president Abra Brynne told the Star after the meeting.
The Baker Street Inn banquet room was packed with more than 200 people showing up for the special meeting.
To start the evening, Brynne told the crowd: “We first want to tell you what we’ve been dreaming about for a very long time.”
Project manager Russell Precious took the microphone and provided a historical sketch of the co-op to get members up to speed on how the store arrived to its current situation.
Precious explained how the co-op stared as a Vallican/Winlaw buying club that was spearheaded by a group of people looking for alternatives in food selection. A move to an old school house in South Slocan took place in 1981 and was thought huge at the time. The co-op eventually arrived in Nelson in 1985 when it moved into the 700 block of Baker Street in the building that currently houses Gericks Cycle.
The biggest move in the co-op’s history to this point came in 1991 when the store moved to its current location in the 200 block of Baker Street.
“For two or three years we felt we had all the space in the world,” Precious told members.
By 2005 the co-op started to feel the space “pinch” again. Since that time Precious said they explored several options — the CPR lands, the lower parking lot beside the Nelson and District Community Complex, expansion on the current site and the Extra Foods location on Vernon Street.
Talks with Extra Foods property owners have been on and off for several years now. Two years ago, Precious said, they entered serious discussions about leasing the property. Due to some unusual requests from the landowners, talks broke off a year ago and the co-op started to look at different locations like the empty lot that once housed the Kerr Apartments.
Precious said Robert and Lily Howes (the owners of the property) approached the co-op this past December to offer the property for outright sale. Over the last few months negotiations have been ongoing, leading to the current situation.
With $2.24 million currently in reserves, the special meeting asked members to vote on whether the board can spend more than the $1.68 million it’s already allowed to invest.
When the microphone was turned over to the members, several people asked questions and brought forward concerns. Some were concerned that the question was too open ended and provided the board with no limitation.
“We have no wish to get into financial deep water,” Precious told the crowd. “That would be reckless.”
Once all the questions were complete, members were asked to hold up their voter cards. The final tally was overwhelmingly in favour of moving ahead.
“I didn’t really know what to expect,” said Brynne. “As we could see from the conversation tonight there was a fairly high level of confusion about exactly what we were asking for and what the implications are. At this point there are some things we simply can’t have answers for because we have been dreaming about it for so long we are blue skying at this point as we think about all kinds of exciting options.”
Brynne has been a member of the co-op since 1990 and before setting up her own business as a freelance food systems consultant was an employee at the co-op for 10 years. She said the future looks bright for the co-op.
“As far as the cost implications are concerned, we are certainly going to be very careful about it,” Brynne said. “But we don’t want to paint ourselves into a corner too early in what is an enormous and unprecedented opportunity for our co-op.”
Most in the room left the Baker Street Inn pleased with the outcome.
“I strongly support the board and I think the move is amazing,” said Francine Laliberte, a member for 20 years. “I think this will help revitalize that part of the downtown if we use that space like we can.
“I am very pleased with the democratic process, everybody had the chance to be heard.”