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Some Co-op Staff: Meghan MacDonald, Kelly Wand, Eric Hargrave, Bianca Lee
General News · 9th July 2012
John Mottishaw
The grown-ups were in the room at Manson’s Hall on Thursday night answering the question, “should the food co-op go ahead with the purchase of the land on which the Co-op buildings sit?” The Cortes Island Food Co-op has been caught between a rock and a hard spot of not being able to operate its cafe until it meets provincial sanitation requirements by installing and expensive septic system. To make matters more expensive, the coop needs to buy the land before investing in this septic system.
What has been accomplished, though, is a clear accounting of where the co-op stands, something that was not evident a year ago. The current board and especially Jason Andrews have given huge amounts of volunteer time in order to get to this point. Banks require this before they will lend.

Vancity is willing to provide a mortgage for the purchase of the land, however meeting monthly expenses may prove daunting. In the past few years, since the economic downturn, revenue has been flat at best and the added expense of a mortgage, over the current rent would add to the financial difficulties.

As questions were taken from the circle of more than 40 people in Manson’s Hall, one recurrent theme became evident. The prospect of loosing this land for use by the community, a piece of land at the centre of the largest village on the island, a parcel that held the schoolhouse that taught many of us and our children, a location with the potential to in some ways define the culture of the island, could not be taken lightly.

Those who pushed for a coffee shop/ restaurant last year were guided by a vision of a vibrant meeting place replete with a music venue, and a book store, and a bicycle shop (both currently in operation). At present, the Co-op has to be satisfied with take out coffee, (they have a great espresso machine and people who know how to run it) and bakery items, as the health code does not currently allow any more intense use. The pragmatists pointed out that investing in the coffee shop/restaurant before the septic system was approved is like putting the cart before the horse. In retrospect this is recognized as a mistake. However, most people also recognized the impulse and the importance of these sorts of facilities in downtown Manson’s Landing.

The current board answered many questions, among them:

Would the membership or board members be on the hook in the case of default on the proposed loan for $230,000? No.

Would the income from Co-op sales be able to cover the expenses of running the Co-op with the additional mortgage expense? Maybe

Has anything been done to improve the profitability of the Co-op? Yes

The new manager Eric Hargrave explained that a Point of Sale computer system has been installed which will make tracking what is selling, and more importantly, what is not selling possible. In the past, many things were ordered for sale that languished on the shelves. Now, he says, tracking products will be much easier. The addition of meat and bakery items is also helping the bottom line.

Does the Co-op currently own the buildings they occupy? No says Richard Andrews, who has been looking deeply into these issues. “You wouldn’t believe how complicated the ownership of this is, however the multiple levels of government involved are motivated to sett it to us.”

Would the Co-op own the buildings if they made the purchase? Yes. The Co-op would then own everything including what Benny and Ruth Beaulieu built and everything that has been made since.

So in spite of the difficulties of moving forward with the co-op, when it came up for a vote, the results were one abstain and 41 in favor with not one person opposed to the purchase.

In another vote (near unanimous ) a $20 annual operating fee was re-instated. Again everyone present felt the need to support what no one wants to see fail.