Co-op 'manages' pandemic

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BRATTLEBORO — Although sales dropped at the Brattleboro Food Co-op, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic has not been crushing.

"We're going to manage through this," Jon Megas-Russell, marketing and community relations manager at the co-op, said Wednesday. "We wouldn't do this without the community supporting us, and we appreciate people and their positive feedback and the staff working so hard."

Earlier in the pandemic, the co-op began offering curbside pickup options to customers. Walk-in hours were limited and certain services were not available.

Megas-Russell said the pandemic hurt sales by about 20 percent when comparing data year over year.

"We had a really, really great March," he said. "We had a really crumby April. Now, we're doing OK in May."

Health/wellness and alcohol sales have declined at the co-op. Megas-Russell attributed that to the store having a higher-end selection for such products and the ability for people to find those things elsewhere.

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"Produce, meat, dairy and frozen have seen explosive growth," he said. "Fresh foods are doing great. Meat and seafood are up like 20 percent year over year."

He said the co-op received some grant funding to help through the pandemic.

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With hours and services expanding, Megas-Russell expects business to grow. Curbside pickup is still available during morning hours.

Megas-Russell said food hoarding stopped in mid-March and people want to come inside the store.

"People want to buy like three items," he said. "They're not scared."

He said older folks and those with health conditions want curbside pickup.

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Megas-Russell recalled roles changing overnight to adapt to the pandemic. He anticipates staffing will return to a fuller level in June. He said some employees felt uncomfortable about coming back sooner.

"It really depends on the person's situation but we're very flexible also," he said.

While Megas-Russell wishes the co-op had a little more sales, he said "it has been a magical time to see how people handle this stuff."

One positive outcome is a plan to launch an online grocery store soon. Another is a long-term curbside program, which Megas-Russell said had been talked about prior to the pandemic and was expected to take about a year to implement until it was needed in about a week.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com and at @CMaysBR on Twitter.


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