The Yahara River Grocery Cooperative opened in Stoughton in March, 2008, having been in the planning since July, 2006. However, the fledgling coop had run through most of its start-up funding by the end of October.
A meeting of the membership was held October 28 to brainstorm ways to increase the cooperative's success. And the Willy Street Co-op loaned YRGC its assistant manager, 17-year veteran Wynston Estis, for three months, until a new store manager can be hired. Estis, on the job at YRGC for three weeks now, spoke to Isthmus on the eve of the store's big reset on November 20.
"We're open, we have been open, and we'll be open through the reset," says Estis. "It will be kind of crazy but we want people to be able to see the changes we're making and that we are working hard to earn their grocery dollar."
Tops on Estis' agenda: Get back to basics. "We're bringing in more conventional products, more frozen foods. We're working with different distributors. But mainly, I'm working to get better pricing on a expanded selection of conventional products."
She's also making the store easier to understand, with more "obvious" and more accessible product arrangement in the store's 5,000 square-foot space on Stoughton's main street.
The store previously ran aground, says Estis, by trying to do too much all at once. "I think they tried to do everything, to be all things to all people and didn't have a clear strategy. So they were inconsistent." That was coupled with the fact that they "weren't getting good pricing from their suppliers."
They bought some bad products, Estis says -- for instance, she found a laundry detergent that cost $20 sitting on the shelf. "Certainly some products are worth $20," says Estis. But for the time being, the reorganized store will be aiming at a middle road.
YRGC is keeping some products like the widely-requested gluten free line. YRGC also stocks locally produced foods, like Cabibbo's biscotti, Tasha's Love Treats (homemade pet treats from "just up the road," says Estis) and Columbus's Sassy Cow Creamery as well as Madison's RP's Pasta.
The store has also raised funds by sponsoring a community chili cookoff for two years. But currently the focus is on getting more shoppers into the store and liking what they see inside.
Yahara River Grocery Cooperative
229 East Main St.
Stoughton, WI 53589