Saturday, April 23, 2016

Making a case for a food co-op in downtown St. Catharines

It has been awhile since I wrote about the Garden City Food Co-op, the dedicated group of individuals working together to bring a dedicated grocery store to the downtown core.  There has been a lot of activity as of late, so I thought it was time for an update.

The last two years, volunteers from the co-op have been out in public - in particular at the St. Catharines Farmer's Market on Saturday mornings - getting the word out about the venture and signing up new members.  On many Saturday mornings I was one of those volunteers last summer and fall, spreading the word.

To date, the membership is healthy and growing steadily, but more members are certainly needed.  More importantly, those members who have joined are being asked to step up to the plate and help fund the newly-launched capital campaign.

I am mentioning these two rather obvious points and separating them to make clear the stages of building a solid base on which to build our downtown grocery store.  The reason for this relates to a comment I found recently posted on Facebook in response to a news update Karena Walter of the St. Catharines Standard recently posted.

The article spelled out the current situation and the need for the capital campaign to now get underway.  But one person - who obviously saw the post but didn't bother to read the article - posted a snide remark saying in essence "these people have been asking for money for years now...the downtown grocery store is doomed to failure."

I'm paraphrasing here, but that was the gist of the comment.  And it angered me greatly.

First of all, the people behind the Garden City Food Co-op have not been going hat in hand begging for donations here for a pie in the sky idea that has not been thoroughly researched.  Proper due diligence has been done every step of the way, and I can say in my experience this is a very dedicated group of individuals who are in it for the long haul.

Once it was determined a food co-operative would work in downtown St. Catharines, the next stage was to secure enough members through the membership drive the last two years to prove the idea is a viable one and worthy of the public's consideration.

Yes, when you join, you pay a one-time membership fee of $120.  That money goes towards funding the ongoing planning processes of bringing the food co-op to fruition.  If enough members join, there is obvious interest within the community to proceed further.

That is where we arrived recently, when it was announced at the 2nd AGM last month the capital campaign was set to roll out and we needed all hands on deck to make this thing happen.

Now the capital campaign is different from the membership drive.  The latter set the foundation in place on which to build the framework with the former.  Think of it as building a house, if you will, and one can't succeed without the other.  No foundation?  No framework.  It's that simple.

So why are members and non-members alike now being asked to pony up to fund the capital campaign?  Essentially to keep the ball rolling and move the ball further towards our goal of opening the co-op in the near future.

We know the interest is there.  But it takes money to build, and some of that money has to come from the members who believe in the concept.  If the membership is willing to collectively put their money where their mouths are, if you will, it will demonstrate the financial security of the whole idea to potential leading partners.

Those leading partners are the movers and shakers in the community who also share the vision but who invest in viable investment opportunities.

The Garden City Food Co-op is very much a viable investment opportunity.

Okay, let's look at the numbers.  The overall budget for the project is $1.4-million, with the Preference Shares being sold in the capital campaign making up 40 to 60% of that budget.  The funds raised through this campaign will be used towards the renovation and outfitting of the co-op location at 57 Carlisle Street, as well as inventory and start-up costs.

The co-op is designed as a for-profit business and is projected to return a profit by its fourth year of business.  That means investors in the capital campaign should expect to be investors for the long-haul; this is not a get rich quick scheme by any means.

But you will get a return on your investment once the co-operative turns a profit.  How much?

Here's where things get a little more technical, but bear with me.

The community is being asked to invest in either Class A shares or Class B shares.  Class A shares are $5,000 per share paying an annual dividend of 4% once the co-op is profitable.  Class B shares are $1,000 per share and earn a 2.9% dividend once the co-op is profitable.  Both Class A and Class B shares are purchased for a 7 year term.

You can purchase up to 50 Class A and 100 Class B shares, and you can buy a combination of the two if you wish.  You can also purchase shares now and more later in the campaign if you wish.

But don't let those numbers frighten you.  The co-op knows either investment is a big decision for most of us, so even buying a single Class B share is a significant undertaking for a member.  But each share purchase brings us a step closer to making the Garden City Food Co-op a reality.  So don't for a minute think buying just one share will not make a difference.  It will.

The money raised in this campaign will not be used until the end of the campaign.  So in the meantime it is held in escrow until the secured minimum amount necessary is raised to make the project a success.  Should the minimum not be met, the Offering will be abandoned and subscription receipts (i.e. funds raised during the campaign) will be fully refunded.

The capital campaign runs from now until September 1st, so we have a lot of work ahead of us.  Should the minimum amount be raised before that date, all the better.  But it cannot be extended.  September 1st is the cut-off and if the necessary funds are not raised by that date the campaign will be deemed unsuccessful.

But let's think positive here.  We will do it.  And the community will respond as best they can.  I am confident of that.

Last Sunday for example, we held a launch event at Co-Work Niagara in downtown St. Catharines, where the Garden City Food Co-op has office space to plan for the various stages of the birth of the new co-op.

In just two hours, $30,000 was raised in the capital campaign to get things going, making up the first 6% of the campaign goal.  That is a promising start to be sure, but we have a long way to go towards reaching our goal, and that means we need your help.

Every day now, volunteers are calling members to explain the capital campaign and solicit funds to be invested into the project.  I am one of the people known as "closers" - I and my colleagues then go out to meet with the prospective investor, answer any questions they may have, and essentially "close the deal" by signing up the member as a part of the capital campaign.

So if you have not already considered making an investment, now is the perfect time to do so.   We need you!  And each and every member of the Garden City Food Co-op will be thrilled to have you on board as an investor and believer in the co-op concept in our downtown core.

Want to know more?  Go to the Garden City Food Co-op Facebook page or website for more details on how you can help, and consider saying yes when you receive a call.  If you are not already a member, perhaps it is time to consider becoming a member and get involved in making this idea a reality.

I'm just scratching the surface here in explaining what you need to know to become an investor, but hopefully this will arm you with enough knowledge and confidence to take the next step and show your support when the call comes.

There will also be another investor sign-up event on Sunday afternoon, May 1st at Co-Work Niagara and you are most welcome to attend and see how you can help out.

It is going to be an exciting time once the Garden City Food Co-op finally opens.  But right now things are exciting too as we work towards the goal of actually being able to afford to open it.

Come and be a part of the growth and investment in downtown St. Catharines.  We can't do it without you.

Have a great weekend!

April 23rd, 2016.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

I'd like to go Guelph-ing this weekend...

Last week I received an email from Patricia Eton-Neufeld, the wife of Gerald Neufeld who is the longtime conductor and Artistic Director of the Guelph Chamber Choir.  I've known Patricia and Gerry for some time now, and they often send me reminders about their upcoming concerts in Guelph.

In my younger days I would think nothing of hopping in the car and driving up for an evening concert, even after working all day, but with age (supposedly) comes wisdom, so I don't do that as much any more.  But I do love to hear the choir, so have promised myself to catch the choir again soon, perhaps the next concert which is on a Sunday afternoon in May.

For those of you up in Guelph or willing to make the drive, tonight the Guelph Chamber Choir presents a concert entitled Virtuoso Baroque at St. George's Anglican Church in downtown Guelph at 7:30 pm.

The concert features the choir along with the Musica Viva Orchestra playing on period instruments, along with soloists Sheila Dietrich, soprano; Carolynne Davy, mezzo-soprano; Janice Coles, mezzo-soprano; Chris Fischer, tenor; Lanny Fleming, tenor; and bass Gordon Burnett.

The music will range from Vivaldi's wonderful Gloria to Handel's Dixit Dominus (Psalm 110), and will sound perfectly at home in the glorious and spacious confines of St. George's, truly one of the area's finest churches.

If you want tickets they should be available at the door tonight, or call in advance at 1-519-763-3000.  And allow me to live it vicariously through you tonight!

Now as I thought about the concert this evening the last few days, I got to thinking about my long association with the City of Guelph, and how much I love that part of the province.  So allow me to reminisce a little bit about my connection with the city and what could have been.

Probably my first regular contact with Guelph came in the early 80s when I started attending concerts during the heyday of the late, lamented Guelph Spring Festival.  I recall attending many concerts either at a school auditorium or the venerable War Memorial Hall on the Guelph University campus.

The school's name escapes me now, but I was always fascinated by the fact in was very close to the Bullfrog Mall.  You cannot help but love a city that calls a mall by the name bullfrog!  I think it was 1985 I attended a memorable performance in the school auditorium there of the one-act opera The Lighthouse, featuring among other people, a very young and much slimmer Ben Heppner.

War Memorial Hall was home to many wonderful musical events in those days, most involving the Guelph Spring Festival as well.  Natalie McMaster was one, and Canadian mouth-organ virtuoso and Guelph native Tommy Reilly was another.  I recall in his performance he actually stopped a piece of music and asked to start again as it was not sounding right - it raised a few eyebrows in the audience.

Probably my most memorable visit to War Memorial Hall was for a recital featuring the inimitable Anne Russell, who by that time was living in semi-retirement in Unionville, and gave a textbook recital of her famous routines to a sold-out audience.  Afterwards I had the great good fortune to go backstage and interview her for a radio show I did at the time, and she remains one of my all-time favourite interview subjects.

My last visit to the hall and indeed, my last Guelph Spring Festival visit I think was in 2003 and a recital by soprano Suzie LeBlanc.  It was a great show, and little did we know at the time the Festival itself would not survive much longer.

My connection to Guelph is not entirely musical, however.  My sister attended the University of Guelph in the late 80s and I often went up to visit her or give her a ride home or back again.  It was in those days we would often visit the Stone Road Mall and I marvelled at the fact it was open to 9 pm on Saturday nights year-round at a time most others were not.

It was also at that time you would not hit any residential development south of the city core much beyond the University of Guelph campus, but now the city extends south almost to Aberfoyle.

In the late 80s and early 90s I also frequented the Carden Street Music Shop in downtown Guelph whenever I was in the city, and eventually when the owner decided to put the store up for sale and retire, I made the trip up there to talk to her as I was very seriously considering buying the shop at the time.

It would have been a big move for me, leaving my Niagara home of many years, but I was so intrigued by the musical culture in the area I thought the shop would almost last forever.  I ultimately decided against the purchase, however, as I was working part-time at a music store here in St. Catharines at the time along with my full-time duties at CKTB Radio, so I decided to stay put.

Eventually, though, my old friend Paul Gellatly purchased the store and renamed it Twelfth Night Music Shoppe.  Funny how things turn out though, as I was tapped to help out in the store on Saturdays back around the winter of 2003/2004 for several months, so I made the commute up from Niagara early every Saturday morning.

I soon learned to leave extra time before the store opened at 10 to park and walk down to the Guelph Farmer's Market, delightfully cramped and brimming with character.  I still think of the guy I used to see every week who had the biggest, baddest cinnamon buns you can imagine!

On one of those working trips to Guelph, I was faced with a long, slow drive home in the eye of a tremendous snow-storm that moved in late morning.  The afternoon was pretty quiet in the store as a result, so when I closed up shop at 5, I was already pretty tense from the knowledge this would not be a pleasant drive.  It wasn't.  About 20 kil. per hour all the way down to Niagara with very treacherous road conditions, but I made it, totally exhausted, about two-and-a-half hours later.

A couple of summers ago on our way back from a concert at the Elora Festival, my wife and I stopped in Guelph for a bite to eat and enjoyed the new civic square, marvelling that we could not do the same here in St. Catharines.  It remains a delightful addition to a downtown that already sports many delights.

Other memories of Guelph?  Oh, there's the late, lamented Guelph Mercury I always picked up on my way through town, with the masthead that read "The only newspaper on earth dedicated to the news of Guelph and Wellington County" or words to that effect.  I loved that.

Butter tarts at the restaurant next door to the music store.  Wimpy's diner downtown.  Budd's department store.  The shops on Quebec Street.  The Paisley Food Shop.  Our Lady Immaculate Catholic Church up on the hill.  Curry in a Hurry.  The list goes on and on.

More recently, there is the innovative My Kitty Cafe, where you can grab a coffee or snack and curl up in the cat-room with a new purr-pal, all of them up for adoption so you can take a loving kitty home with you.  What could be better than that?  I have to visit the cafe on my next trip up that way.

If I sound like I'm writing a love letter to Guelph, well, I guess I am.  I have such great memories of visiting the city over the years, and you owe it to yourself to do the same if you have not been in some time or - heaven forbid - ever.

After all, you have to love a city that can laugh at itself, as they did during a radio broadcast of the Royal Canadian Air Farce in the city years ago when they made fun of the city's name, likening it to what one does when one expels involuntarily whilst sick.  Or the fact people like to go "Guelph-ing" on the weekend...

Yes, I have such fond memories of the Royal City.  I must get back to hear the Guelph Chamber Choir again sometime soon.

I'm due to go Guelph-ing again this year...

Have a great weekend!

April 9th, 2016.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Thoughts on lives lived and lives lost.

It's been a few weeks since I last posted in this space, and I offer apologies for that.  With a hectic work schedule and getting tax stuff ready for the accountant and such, I just had a lot of my plate.  Besides that, I just felt burned out and needed some time to rest a little bit, and I think the rest was most helpful.

Today I went to a visitation for a gentleman I knew who passed away suddenly late this past week.  His name was Dr. Bill Combe, a long-time veterinarian in St. Catharines, who along with his daughter Heather have operated Fairview Animal Clinic in north St. Catharines for many years.

When I acquired my very first pet, my beloved cat Pushkin, Fairview Animal Clinic was recommended to me as a good place to take my cat when the need arose.  Bill and his staff took care of Pushkin as if he were their own pet, and I know they all shared my sense of loss when Pushkin passed away several years ago.

Bill made it easy for me to adjust to having a pet with timely advice and help whenever I needed it, and I was always grateful for that help.

Heather tells me her father was at the clinic as usual on Thursday morning, so it was a very brief illness.  But that doesn't lessen the pain or sense of loss a family feels at a time like this.

I remember our own family suffered a tragic loss exactly a year ago this past week when my sister's father-in-law died suddenly, and again it was very quick.

In both of these cases, family and friends came out for the visitations in huge numbers, comforting the respective families and reliving happier times they had shared in the past.  That's what we do.  But when the visitations and the funeral are over and the family members are alone, that's when they need others the most, I find.

I got to thinking about lives lived and lives lost on my drive home from the visitation today, and how prepared we are for the inevitable.  We as in those left behind.

There is no way to know what the future holds, and no way to prepare emotionally for what is to come.  But when you suffer a loss in your family or close circle of friends, you find the strength to carry on and do what you can for those directly affected by the loss.

While we might not be in a position to prepare fully for the inevitable, there are things we can do right now to ease the pain when the time comes.  Some are practical and some are more emotional and spiritual.

Have you made any plans regarding your wills and powers of attorney, for example?  This is such a basic requirement of life and yet so many others either overlook it or put it off as long as possible.

Sometimes, too long.

The worst possible thing you can do is not be prepared in this most basic, simple way.  Everyone needs a will, and everyone should give some thought to what may happen after they are gone.  To add to the pain of loss felt by those you leave behind by saddling them with tremendous bureaucratic red tape is unfair and so unnecessary.

It is never too early to start thinking about this.

Planning your own funeral may sound morbid and absurd to some, but pre-planning relieves a lot of the stress on your loved ones when the time comes.  Even if you don't go that far, just making sure the basics are in place before it is too late helps with the planning your family faces once you are gone.

When my father passed away six years ago, a full nine years after mother passed away suddenly, he had the plots bought and paid for, the powers of attorney and wills in order, and someone else joint on his bank account so there was access to funds when the time came.

As an executor of the estate, I can tell you these basic planning steps made a huge difference for me and the rest of the family, and helped us out immensely.

But beyond all that, how can you reduce the emotional toll on your friends and family on either side of the equation?  How to minimize the inevitable grief and sense of loss you feel when someone close to you passes away?

The simple answer is to forgive past transgressions and make sure the people closest to you are at peace as much as possible.  It is never easy to "bury the hatchet" as it were and let bygones be bygones, and there will always be extenuating circumstances in a lot of cases.

But in most cases, not carrying a grudge to the grave can make things a lot easier for all concerned.

Don't be afraid to let people know how much they mean to you and yes, how much they are loved.  I know this is sometimes difficult for some to do, but there must be some small way you can let others know they matter to you without going overboard.

When my mother was still alive, in later years I called her every evening to check up on her.  It didn't need to be a long conversation although often it was.  But keeping in touch just seemed to be the right thing to do.  And at the end of every conversation we had, every single night, I told her I loved her, and she told me the same.

They were not just words, but true expressions of love and affection on both sides.

This went on for years, and then one morning after our regular evening conversation, I found out she had suffered a massive stroke.  If nothing else, the grief I felt at that moment was tempered somewhat by the knowledge less than 24 hours earlier, I had told her I loved her.  It helped me through that difficult period immensely.  I knew she knew.

We can't always be that fortunate, of course.  People may live in far corners of the world and not be in contact every day as I was with mom.  But when you do have contact, making sure they know they matter to you can help somewhat with the grieving process.

Basically what it comes down to is this:  live your life well, and with love.  Have as few regrets as possible, and don't carry them with you like an albatross.  Let go of them and free yourself from the burden of guilt if at all possible.

We can't prepare for the inevitable completely, and it will always come as a shock no matter when it happens, but making sure you are at peace with yourself and those closest to you can go a long way towards preparing yourself emotionally for the day when either you suffer a loss, or other family members suffer your loss.

Something to think about this weekend...

April 3rd, 2016.